DES MOINES, Iowa — Hundreds of Iowans from across the state came to the capitol Tuesday evening, sharing personal stories at a public hearing on a bill that would amend the state’s constitution to not provide the right to an abortion.
House Democrats requested a public hearing for people to have one last chance to give input on the measure before it heads to the full House for debate. A companion bill already passed in the Senate. The House has not yet scheduled when it’ll be brought to the floor for debate.
The amendment would state that the Iowa Constitution “shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”
The two-hour hearing took place in the historic Iowa Supreme Court chamber, filled wall-to-wall with Iowans who came to testify. But an overflow of both pro-life and pro-choice advocates crowded the rotunda area to watch the livestream, with cheers loud enough to be heard in the court’s chamber.
Burlington resident Phoebe McNeece said she took paid time off to drive three hours for the hearing.
“This is serious. These are our bodies and our daughter’s bodies that we’re talking about and it’s frightening other people think they can take away our bodily autonomy,” she said.
Women and men shared personal stories to lawmakers about abortions, unplanned pregnancies, sexual assault, and their faith.
One woman, Laura Limmex said she was traumatized by the abortion she had when she was 16. She now runs an Ankeny-based nonprofit called Restored by Grace that works with other women who have had abortions.
“Today I deeply regret my abortion, and I’m not afraid to share the truth that abortion ends a life and leaves another wounded,” she said.
But for Amanda Acton of Waukee, her decision to have an abortion was the “right thing to do” for her and her family, as her daughter would have been born without lungs.
“My decision was never hard because I knew compassion was the only thing I could give her,” Acton said. “I’ll remind you in making this decision I trusted my personal faith, family, and doctor but never once did I call my representative or neighbors and ask them what they think I should do.”
A number of speakers argued that decreasing access or making abortion illegal would not reduce the number of abortions, but put women’s health at risk.
“We know that making abortion illegal or difficult to get doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. It doesn’t. It doesn’t save any unborn children. It just increases the number of unsafe abortions and maternal mortality,” said Clare Harney, an OB-GYN who works in Davenport.
For some, this bill is about “righting the wrongs” of the Iowa Supreme Court, in reference to its landmark 2018 decision that found the constitution provides a fundamental right to an abortion.
Kimberly Laube of the Lutheran Family Service called it an “inappropriate ruling by activist judges.”
“This amendment became necessary when a handful of un-elected members of Iowa’s Supreme Court overstepped their constitutionally outlined mandate and chose in essence to create law rather than to interpret it,” said Kim Laube, the director of life ministries for Lutheran Family Services.
If enacted, the amendment would nullify the court’s decision. Abortion rights in Iowa would then only be protected by federal court decisions like Roe v. Wade.
Democrats say the amendment is part of a larger effort by Republicans to ultimately ban abortion in Iowa.
“I see what you’re doing. You didn’t get your way the first time so you’re trying to once again usurp the will of the people to make an end-run at our rights,” Acton said.
Constitutional amendments must be approved in two consecutive two-year sessions of the Iowa Legislature and then be voted on in a statewide election. Therefore, this measure would have to pass again in both chambers; the earliest it could be on the ballot for voters to decide on is 2022.