The Iowa Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment on Wednesday, seeking to clarify that the Iowa Constitution doesn’t grant women the right to abortion.
The Republican-led Senate passed the proposal along party lines by 30-18. The state House passed the proposal by 54-38 a day earlier.
The proposed amendment (pdf) states, “To defend the dignity of all human life and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”
Republican lawmakers proposed the amendment in response to an Iowa Supreme Court 5-2 decision in 2018. Then-Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote for the majority opinion, “Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty. We therefore hold, under the Iowa Constitution, that implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”
Republican lawmakers called the ruling “judicial overreach.”
“Regrettably, five unelected judges with the stroke of a pen fabricated, fabricated a constitutional right to an abortion under Iowa’s constitution. This egregious usurpation of power will not be left unchecked,” state Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican, said during Wednesday’s session. “It is our responsibility, it is our oath-bound duty to rightfully propose to the people of Iowa a constitutional amendment to correct this judicial overreach.”
Democrat lawmakers expressed different opinions.
“It’s important that you know that the majority party will support something that a minority of Iowans support,” Democrat state Rep. Jennifer Konfrst said during the house session Tuesday, pointing out that 58 percent of Iowans oppose this constitutional amendment.
“The party that waxes poetic about small government is one more time stepping into your doctor’s office. They aren’t listening to what Iowans want,” Konfrst added.
“We differ greatly because it’s my body. You’re talking about my body,” Democrat state Sen. Liz Mathis said during the senate session. “It makes me feel as though my status as a human being is low enough, and that my decisions about pregnancy and my own body isn’t valid enough that the public should vote about it on a ballot.”
“While I agree that you have the right to bodily autonomy, I do not agree that you have a right to use that bodily autonomy to terminate, to end the life of another human being. I don’t agree with that,” Chapman responded. “I don’t think that’s your constitutional right.”
Passing the amendment in the General Assembly is only the first step to amend the state Constitution.
According to Iowa law, the amendment must be published 3 months before it is passed by the next succeeding legislature of 2023-2024. The 2024 general election would then vote on the amendment unless the legislature votes to require it to take place at an earlier time.
Even if Iowa passes this amendment, abortion will still be legal based upon federal law, state Republican Rep. Steven Holt said during the house session, referring to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take a major abortion case from Mississippi. The case will grant the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider abortion rulings, including Roe v. Wade.
States have been tightening restrictions on abortion. About 28 abortion restrictions were signed into law in seven states within four days between April 26-29, according to the Guttmacher Institute.