Iowa lawmakers advance constitutional amendment to exclude ‘right to abortion’

Iowa Capitol Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines./ Credit: Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.

Lawmakers in Iowa this week passed a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution which would exclude a “right to abortion” or to public funding for abortion. 

House Joint Resolution 5 would amend the Iowa state constitution to clarify that it “does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

The amendment is particularly prescient for Iowa, as the state’s Supreme Court found a “right to abortion” in the state’s constitution in 2018. 

The Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, on the grounds that “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” The proposed amendment would nullify the court’s finding. 

The resolution passed Jan. 27 by a vote of 55-44. During a two hour debate, several Democratic representatives introduced amendments to the resolution, such as an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, none of which survived the vote. 

The Senate is likely to pass the measure, the Des Moines Register reported. Under current law, abortion is legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy.

The Iowa Catholic Conference has testified in support of the amendment, saying it would make the state constitution “abortion-neutral.”

“Without this change, if or when Roe v. Wade is struck down or federal law is modified, abortion will remain a fundamental right in Iowa,” the conference said in 2019. The state Supreme Court decision means strong scrutiny for “any regulation of abortion or efforts to restrict its public funding.”

The House resolution is the start of the process of putting the amendment before Iowa voters for approval. 

If the language in the amendment is approved by the House and Senate this legislative session, and again during the 2023-25 session, the amendment could go to the Iowa voters in 2024 for ratification by a simple majority, The Gazette reported. 

The proposed amendment in Iowa mirrors a successful recent effort in Louisiana, where voters in Nov. 2020 approved a similar amendment to prevent Louisiana’s courts from finding a “right to abortion,” or to public abortion funding, in the state’s constitution.

State Senator Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat, authored the Louisiana amendment when she was a state representative, along with dozens of co-sponsors from both parties.

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Known as the “Love Life Amendment,” the measure, which passed with nearly a two-thirds majority, updated the Louisiana constitution to state that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

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