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Iowa Senate approves abortion amendment

Iowa Senate approves abortion amendment

Under the bill, Iowans would vote on whether state constitution guarantees a right to an abortion

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Iowa Legislature file

The Iowa State Capitol building July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City


Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City.jfif

Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.jfif


Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel.jfif


DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa Senate on Tuesday voted again to give voters a chance to directly decide whether the Iowa Constitution guarantees a right to an abortion.

House Joint Resolution 5, which won Senate approval on a 30-17 party-line vote, would ask voters whether they wanted to add language to the Iowa Constitution to make clear there is no constitutional right to an abortion or requirement for public funding of abortions. Under Iowa’s statutory criteria, a resolution seeking to amend the constitution must be approved in exactly the same form by two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies before the issue would come before Iowa voters during a general election.

Before passing HJR 5, Senate Republicans amended the Iowa House-passed language — adopted by a 55-44 margin in January — with wording saying the amendment is necessary “to defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

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The Senate’s amended resolution will have to be approved either this year or next by the House and then win the support of the House and Senate again during the 90th General Assembly, which will convene in January 2023. The resolution then to come before voters on the November 2024 general election ballot for consideration. Senators previously approved the language, but the bill failed to clear the House last year. So Republicans restarted the process this session.

“We have an opportunity today to stand for life,” said Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City. But Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, said senators were “debating an amendment that would make women less free.”

Proponents said the amendment is necessary to correct ”a judicial overreach, a judicial tyranny” by the Iowa Supreme Court, which in a 5-2 decision in 2018 found a right to an abortion in the state constitution.

In addition to finding that the Iowa Constitution grants women a fundamental right to an abortion, the court ruling threw out Iowa’s 72-hour waiting period requirement that lawmakers had approved a year earlier. In the court’s opinion, the law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution “because its restrictions on women are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, told her colleagues that “changing the constitution is very serious business.” Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said HJR5 is needed because “five unelected judges used the power of the pen to fabricate a right” in the Constitution where none existed.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said the state’s constitution has been updated by voters in the past to “modernize, right a wrong or expand the rights of our citizens,” but HJR5 would “would take rights away, and that is the wrong direction for Iowans.”

Celsi called the proposal an attempt by GOP authors to “insert their personal and religious views” into the private decisions of Iowans of childbearing age through a “long game” political effort to eventually ban abortion should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion and return decision-making authority to the states.

“Some Republicans in the Senate are determined to continue this war on pregnant Iowans,” she said, “to stand directly between an individual who is making a serious and consequential decision for themselves and family.”

Sen. Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, expressed concern that the resolution would “pave the way for more countless abortion restrictions and bans,” but Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, countered it did not directly affect abortion as much as it reined in a court that “just made up law” and returned that power to the Legislature and the people.

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