Status of protection of life legislation



District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

The fourth week of the session was a short week due to the Iowa presidential caucuses.  Since Legislators from the far corners of the state may have a four-hour drive to Des Moines, the Legislature was not in session on Monday to allow your elected representatives to participate in their local caucuses. I left for Des Moines immediately after the conclusion of my local caucus Monday evening, so I had not gotten a lot of feedback on the success of our local caucuses. I have heard from my colleagues that everything went pretty well at statewide caucuses, but unfortunately the electronic reporting system used by the Democrats did not meet expectations.

The problems this year, combined with the glitch in the Republican program eight years ago that resulted in an inaccurate vote count that was corrected several days later, has made it a challenge to defend the caucus process and Iowa’s first in the nation status. If we are to maintain our nation leading caucuses, Democrats and Republicans alike must work together through our state parties and national organizations to defend our place in selecting our next president. Finger pointing will only weaken our status in the eyes of the nation, we must stand together as Iowans or we will lose our ability to influence the national body politics.

The question most frequently asked of me, since the beginning of session, is the status of the “protection of life” legislation. Several years ago, a law was enacted prohibiting the termination of a pregnancy beyond 20-weeks of gestation. More recently, legislation was approved that would ban an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected by ultrasound. The fetal heartbeat bill was ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge, and the viability of the 20-week bill was questioned when the Supreme Court took out the section requiring a 72-hour waiting period between the request for an abortion and the procedure. In that 2018 ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court also found that a woman has a fundamental right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution.

That brings us to where we are today, where the unborn have little to no protection; i.e. late term or partial birth abortions. The issue of government funded abortion is undecided and wide open to interpretation. Constitutional scholars frequently disagree; there is a clash between those who interpret the Constitution as the Supreme Court did and those scholars who feel the ruling was an extreme overreach by the court.

House Joint Resolution 5 (HJR5) has come about as a result of the conflicting interpretations of the Iowa Constitution. HJR5, an amendment to the Constitution, states, “The Constitution of the State of Iowa does not secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The amendment does not ban abortion. All it says is that the ability to have an abortion is not a protected right under the Iowa Constitution. It does not make abortions illegal. It is not the heartbeat bill. It is not the 20-week bill. It does not require a 72-hour waiting period. Any or all of those provisions would still have to approved by a future Legislature and be signed by the Governor.

Until HJR5 is amended into the Constitution, the 2018 court ruling makes any abortion regulation unenforceable. This is the first step in a long process. HJR5 must be approved in both chambers of the Legislature in this session, the 88th session. If that happens, it must be approved again, in identical form, by both chambers in the 89th session.  If both of these actions occur, the amendment will appear on the general election ballot in fall 2022, to be subject to a vote by the citizens of the State of Iowa.

Our next legislative forum will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15th at King’s Pointe.

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