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Iowa Senate passes abortion constitutional amendment bill

February 13, 2020 GMT
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Iowa Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, speaks in favor of SJR 2001, a controversial abortion ban bill, during senate debate in the Senate Chambers at the Iowa Capitol Building, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP)
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Iowa Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, speaks in favor of SJR 2001, a controversial abortion ban bill, during senate debate in the Senate Chambers at the Iowa Capitol Building, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Senate Republican lawmakers on Thursday approved a resolution that would amend the Iowa Constitution to declare there is no right to an abortion in the state.

The measure passed the Senate 32-18 along party lines with only Republican votes. It says in part “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.”

It must pass in the House and then pass in the legislature again in 2021 or 2022 before it would go to a statewide vote.

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If it survives and voters eventually approve it, the amendment would make state court challenges to abortion restrictions much more difficult in Iowa.

The measure is a response to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that struck down the legislature’s 72-hour waiting period for an abortion. In that ruling the court more broadly declared that the state constitution guarantees women the freedom to make their own health decisions, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.

The ruling infuriated some conservative lawmakers and brought accusations that the court was usurping the power of the legislature to create laws.

“I’m not seeing one of you put forth a constitutional amendment to provide a right to an abortion. Rather, you’re going to rely on judicial activists to create new constitutional rights,” said Republican Sen. Jake Chapman. “We have an opportunity to right a wrong. The court, we can allow them to use the power of the gavel to create new constitutional rights or we can say when it comes to this issue the power will reside with the people.”

Democratic Senate leader Janet Petersen criticized Republicans for pushing an abortion bill rather than working to improve conditions in Iowa where obstetrics departments are closing in rural hospitals.

“I don’t like to be mansplained about what human rights are. This constitutional amendment is written with the sole purpose of banning access to safe abortion care in Iowa,” she said. “Women are getting tired of you making your political statements with our uteruses. It’s time to quit punching women and girls in the uteruses with you policies and pretending it’s for our own good.”

A bill with similar language moved through a House committee on Wednesday but a public hearing was requested so House Speaker Pat Grassley said a hearing must be held before it can proceed to full House consideration. House rules require a five-day notice of a hearing before it can be held. No date has yet been set.

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Grassley also suggested the possibility that House language may change, which means the two chambers would have to reach agreement on language before it’s passed in a final version.

Grassley said Republicans in the GOP-controlled House have made it clear they oppose abortion but the bill is as much about the courts striking down legislative action.

“This is about separating the powers and the decisions that were made by the courts and the legislature taking that power back, so this is really a broader conversation than what’s just being focused on with that specific question,” he said.

He said the action is to ensure that abortion measures the state has passed are upheld.

The courts have struck down Iowa laws that would have made abortion illegal at the detection of a heartbeat — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — and the 72-hour waiting period. A law passed last year denying federal funds administered by the state for sex education programs conducted by any organization that performs abortions is being challenged in court now.

A bill that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy remains law in the state.

Also, on Thursday House subcommittees moved forward on two separate abortion-related bills. One requires specific information to be relayed to a woman seeking a medication abortion, a so-called informed consent measure. The other bill makes it a crime to fail to properly handle fetal remains and requires filing of a death certificate when a pregnancy ends at 12 weeks or later.