Iowa Senate approves anti-abortion constitutional amendment on a party-line vote

A demonstrator holds a sign referencing the Iowa state motto during a pro-choice rally on the University of Iowa Pentacrest, Friday, May 17, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

On Thursday, the Republican majority in the Iowa Senate approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would undermine a woman’s right to make reproductive health choices, in an attempt to make abortion illegal. The vote was 32-18, with all Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and all the Senate’s Democrats voting against it.

Gov. Kim Reynolds called on the legislature to add anti-abortion language to the constitution during her Condition of the State speech last month.

“We must protect life by making clear, through an amendment, that our constitution does not grant a right to an abortion,” Reynolds said. “It’s time, and unfortunately it’s necessary.”

Hard-line anti-abortion groups have been pushing for a constitutional amendment since a January 2019 state district court decision striking down the so-called “fetal heartbeat” law. That law, which would have been the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, was easily passed by Republicans in the legislature in 2018, despite receiving no support from Democratic lawmakers.

In striking down the law, the Polk County District Court 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.

The text of the amendment reads:

Protection of life. 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 to require the public funding of abortion.

“The real agenda here is to restrict access to abortion,” Sen. Eric Giddens, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, said during the brief Senate floor debate on the amendment. “This amendment will pave the way for countless abortion restrictions and bans.”

Sen. Zach Whiting of Spirit Lake summed up the arguments of his fellow Republicans when he said, “Ending life through the practice of abortion is the most egregious violation of human rights in the history of humanity.”

Gov. Reynolds tweeted her thanks to the Senate Republicans following Thursday’s vote.

Interestingly, Reynolds didn’t use the governor’s official Twitter account. Instead, she tweeted from the account she used for her election campaign.

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

On Wednesday afternoon, the judiciary committee of the Iowa House of Representatives approved the amendment on a party line vote, with only the committee’s Republicans supporting it.

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