Gov. Kim Reynolds calls for an anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State speech, Jan. 14, 2019. — video still/Iowa PBS

Gov. Kim Reynolds called for adding an anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution in her Condition of the State speech on Tuesday.

“As we begin 2020, I’m focused on the overall wellness of all Iowans, in every part of the State, in all stages of life,” the governor said early in her speech.

“And when I say all stages of life, I mean to include the unborn. We must protect life by making clear, through an amendment, that our constitution does not grant a right to an abortion. It’s time, and unfortunately it’s necessary.”

Although the governor’s speech contained a list of legislative priorities (changing the state’s tax structure by raising sales tax while cutting income tax, which would make taxes in Iowa more regressive) and uplifting stories (the Osage Community School District’s success in introducing students to computer programming; a large company that opened a daycare center for employees’ children) such speeches always have, it contained only two calls for constitutional amendments.

In addition to the anti-abortion provision, the governor repeated her intentions “to amend our constitution so that it no longer bars felons from voting after they’ve served their sentence.” It’s the second straight year the governor has called for the amendment — it was the most significant proposal in Reynolds’ 2019 Condition of the State address.

“Our founders gave us a process to amend the constitution, should the passage of time change our view,” she said in her 2019 speech. “Let’s begin that process now. I believe Iowans recognize the power of redemption; let’s put this issue in their hands.”

To be adopted, an amendment must pass both chambers of the Iowa legislature in two consecutive sessions, then be ratified by a majority of voters in an election.

Last year, the Iowa House of Representatives passed the amendment. The Senate didn’t even bring it up for vote, despite the governor’s repeated public statements that the amendment was a top priority.

Late in the speech, the governor politely acknowledged the failure of the amendment to advance.

I am grateful to the House for starting this process last year by approving the constitutional amendment with a strong bipartisan vote of 95 to two. I also appreciate the productive conversations we are having with senators, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to pass the amendment and craft an implementing statute that lets us avoid the confusion and lawsuits that have plagued other states’ restoration efforts.

The voting rights amendment was the only amendment Reynolds promoted in her 2019 speech. She did not mention abortion directly last year, but claimed credit for having “protected the sanctity of life.”

It’s unlikely the anti-abortion amendment will have trouble passing either Republican-controlled chamber of the Iowa legislature. In 2018, the so-called “fetal heartbeat bill,” which would have been the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, easily passed both chambers, despite having no support from Democrats. Gov. Reynolds signed it into law, but a state district judge issued an injunction preventing it from taking effect.

The law was struck down by the same district court judge in January 2019. The judge based his ruling on a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds, in which the justices ruled the state constitution affords a much stronger guarantee of the rights of women than the U.S. Constitution does.

That decision lead to calls from hard-line anti-abortion groups for the sort of constitutional amendment Reynolds favors, which would basically prevent the Iowa Supreme Court from rely on its established precedents that guarantee a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Reynolds is currently in the process of selecting a new justice for the Iowa Supreme Court, to replace Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died in November. Last week, Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins announced he will retire in March. Reynolds will also appoint his replacement.

With these two appointments, Reynolds will have been responsible for naming four of the court’s seven justices.

During an appearance before a conservative Christian gathering in July, Reynolds boasted that “the tide is turning in Iowa’s Supreme Court.” She added, “In just two short years, we’ve moved the needle from left to right.

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