As Iowa GOP leaders eagerly await Roe being overturned, abortion rights advocates plan a rally on the Pentacrest

Rally for abortion rights

Noon on the Pentacrest, Saturday, Dec. 4

Demonstrators gather on the University of Iowa Pentacrest for a pro-choice rally on Friday, May 17, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

There will be a rally to support abortion rights on the University of Iowa Pentacrest at noon on Saturday. The event, organized by Repros for Iowa, Corridor Community Action Network and Iowa City Democratic Socialists of America, is in response to Wednesday’s hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Republican-appointed majority clearly indicated it will eliminate the rights recognized almost half a century ago in Roe v. Wade, and confirmed by the court in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.

“We need to stand up for Roe,” organizers said in an email. “We cannot let it fall. We must stand together. We are calling on everyone in our community to use their voice to uphold Roe v. Wade.”

In the case before the court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state of Mississippi has gone further than just ask the court to reverse lower court decisions that its 2018 law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional, and requested the court overturn Roe.

In its 1973 decision in Roe, the Supreme Court not only recognized a person’s right to choose an abortion, it established that a state cannot prevent someone from accessing abortion services prior to a fetus becoming viable, which has been recognized as being at least 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Nineteen years later in its Casey decision, the court affirmed Roe, and ruled that states also cannot place an “undue burden” on someone seeking abortion services during that period.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and reaffirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in his opinion striking down the Mississippi law as unconstitutional.

The Fifth Circuit is the most conservative federal appeals court in the country, and has ruled in favor of conservative interests in many legal challenges that were generally considered extreme, but it had no problem deciding the Mississippi law violated the constitutional rights of Mississippians.

The Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court doesn’t share the 5th Circuit’s concerns about those rights.

After listening to the justices in the majority during oral arguments on Wednesday, legal historian Mary Ziegler wrote in the New York Times, “The only real question is how the justices will rationalize their decision to side with Mississippi.”

Before Wednesday, Ziegler had expected the court majority to undermine Roe, but in a somewhat restrained fashion. She no longer expects much restraint.

“There was no mistaking the message of Wednesday’s arguments: There will be a day when there is no longer a right to choose abortion in the United States, and it is coming soon.”

In July, Gov. Kim Reynolds joined 10 other Republican governors in signing an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Mississippi. The brief said, “Roe and Casey are unprincipled decisions that have damaged the democratic process, poisoned our national discourse, plagued the law… Nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion.”

Reynolds made similar remarks in a videotaped message to an anti-abortion group, played on Monday during an anti-abortion gathering. She called the Mississippi case, “the court’s best opportunity yet to undo its fatal mistake” in Roe.

“Here in Iowa, I’m not alone among elected leaders who are eager” to have Roe overturned, so they can pass abortion restrictions, the governor said. She’s correct. Both Sen. Grassley and Sen. Ernst, also signed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the Mississippi law, as did Rep. Ashley Hinson, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rep. Randy Feenstra.

Iowa congressional Republicans all took to social media on Wednesday to reaffirm their support for eliminating the rights guaranteed by Roe.

Hinson and Ernst posted videos in support of Mississippi’s law (“There is no more important job than being a mom,” Ernst says in a video featuring other Republican women senators), Grassley tweeted saying “Stand with Life,” and Miller-Meeks posted a photo of herself with the Supreme Court building in the background, saying, “Proud to stand for life today and every day!”

Twelve states have so-called “trigger laws” that would immediately make abortion illegal if Roe is overturned. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a further five states are ready to take quick action to ban abortion, if the Supreme Court permits it. Guttmacher estimates a total of 26 states are “certain or likely” to make abortion illegal.

Reynolds’ oft-stated desire to make abortion illegal in Iowa is complicated by the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Branstad, which found the Iowa Constitution provides a stronger guarantee of a person’s right to access abortion services than the U.S. Constitution. In his ruling, then Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote, “the Iowa constitution… implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

That decision is why Republicans in the state legislature pushed through an amendment to the state constitution during this year’s session that declares “this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

For it to become part of the state constitution, it will have to be passed again in the 2023-24 legislative session, and then approved by a majority of voters in the 2024 general election.

Winning majority support for the amendment in a statewide election is by no means certain, according to an Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register in September. That poll found 57 percent of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, 38 percent believe it should be illegal in most or all cases, and 5 percent aren’t sure.

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