A proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution passed through the full Senate on Thursday. The amendment, which states there is no right to an abortion or taxpayer funding of abortion in the Iowa Constitution, was approved 32-18.
Every Republican voted yes. Every Democrat voted no.
“Senate Joint Resolution 2001 proposes to allow millions of Iowans an opportunity to have a voice on what our state constitution does and does not say about abortion,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, who floor managed the amendment. “SJR 2001 became necessary when five unelected judges on the Iowa Supreme Court in a split decision dated June 29, 2018, invented a supposed fundamental right to an abortion by declaring itself ‘freed from the private views of the constitution’s framers’ and to rule on ‘evolving standards’ instead.”
Chapman called their ruling an “illegitimate” amendment to the Iowa Constitution.
“The people of Iowa however, are the only political power with the authority to change and amend Iowa’s Constitution,” Chapman said. “Nowhere in our constitution will you find any other entity that is given that power. Not this body, not the chamber across the way and not our governor. And certainly not five unelected judges. In fact, the court is almost completely ignored when it comes to the amendment process.”
Chapman said passing the resolution is reasonable and appropriate.
“In fact, I would argue it is our solemn responsibility to do so,” he said. “Out of respect for the legislative branch and the separation of powers, we should pass it. But, more importantly, out of the respect for the people, where all political power resides, we should pass it, pass it again so the people of Iowa can be heard.”
Sen. Claire Celsi said while many Iowans may think the proposed amendment came out of left field, it is a small part of a “coordinated effort” to overturn Roe v. Wade at the national level. And, if the Supreme Court kicks the decision back to the state, it’s an effort to weaken the Iowa Constitution.
Celsi called pro-life legislation passed by Republicans (a telemed abortion ban, a 72-hour waiting period and the heartbeat bill) “extreme,” “medically inaccurate” and “insulting.”
Celsi was the only Democrat who asked Chapman to yield. Chapman had a law book from 1858 where abortion was outlawed in all cases except for the life of the mother in Iowa. The code was written just six months after the Iowa Constitution.
“This is a very ironic day in the Iowa Senate,” she said. “We all celebrated the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.”
Celsi asked Chapman how many years it was after 1858 until women could vote.
“Senator, you’re talking about voting rights, we’re talking about protecting life,” Chapman said. “Without life, a woman would never have the opportunity to vote.”
Senator Joe Bolkcom spoke in opposition to SJR 2001. Bolkcom said Republicans will want to ban abortion if the amendment is adopted.
“In America, people should be in charge of their own medical decisions,” Bolkcom said. “Nearly 80 percent of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. That’s because abortion is normal. Abortion is nothing to be ashamed of. Abortion is healthcare.”
Bolkcom criticized Republicans for reducing access to quality health care.
“You are likely responsible for more deaths,” he said. “Have you ever considered the impact of forced pregnancy on the economic health and security of Iowa women?”
Sen. Jackie Smith told a family story. When she was four, her 17-year-old sister became pregnant. She said she recalled turmoil and sadness and knew things were not good. Her sister moved out of the house and got married.
“Life was really tough for her and her son,” Smith said.
Smith said her mom served on the board of Planned Parenthood, saying she had a passion for protecting women and children.
“I share those same values,” Smith said. “SJR 2001 is one of the most extreme attacks on women and our health care in Iowa history.”
Smith said the proposed amendment is not fair.
Sen. Eric Giddens said the state legislature’s role is not to insert itself into personal medical decisions.
“Moreover, as a man that will never have a period, have to worry about missing a birth control pill and will never have to carry a pregnancy, I especially don’t have any right to tell Iowa women what they can and cannot do with their bodies,” he said.
“I believe that SJR 2001 will be ruled unconstitutional when challenged. And it will be challenged. The abortion bills presented before SJR 2001 have been ruled unconstitutional and I believe will be ruled unconstitutional.”
Sen. Zach Whiting pointed out that the word abortion doesn’t appear in either the federal or state constitution, calling out judicial activism.
Whiting talked comments made earlier by Giddens regarding how “safe” abortion is.
“That might well be true,” Whiting said. “Absent from that statistic was how safe was the abortion for the 60 million babies that died performing that abortion.”
Sen. Randy Feenstra asked Democrats what they’re scared of in regards to letting the people of Iowa vote for the amendment.
“Let’s let the people decide,” he said. “Sen. Bolkcom said that 80 percent of the people are against it, so it should be slam dunk. So, what are you scared of? Are you scared that people are starting to see that these are humans? You get the ultrasound, yep, it’s a human. It’s got a heart, it’s got hands, it’s got legs, it’s got a face. And yet we’re destroying them.”
Feenstra talked about young people and how much they have to offer.
“But we’re also killing these same people through abortion,” he said. “The same people that someday might cure cancer, that might be the next President, that might go to Mars.”
Sen. Jim Carlin said the Constitution is now being used to oppose the humanity of an unborn child.
“If somebody can deny your humanity of your existence, they can pretty much take away anything they want from you,” he said. “A government that no longer sees people as individuals will no longer value people as individuals. Hasn’t history taught us that?”
Sen. Julian Garrett argued in favor of the process, noting the political power rests with the people.
“What does that mean,” he said. “You could read the Iowa Constitution a hundred times and you’ll never find the word abortion. It’s not there. When our supreme court made the decision and declared there is a fundamental right to an abortion in the Iowa Constitution, they pretty much admitted that there’s nothing really in the constitution that says that, but they said we don’t have to follow what those old people who wrote the constitution such a long time ago, we don’t have to follow what they meant.”
Garrett reiterated that all political power belongs in the hands of the people.
“Let’s say you’re a citizen of Iowa,” he said. “You disagree with the new, made up provision of the Iowa Constitution, and you want to fix it. You want to exercise the political power that the constitution says you have. How do you do it? You can’t. You can’t do it, unless we and the House across the rotunda, unless we say the people can make this decision. That’s all we’re doing with this amendment.”
Sen. Janet Petersen talked at length about issues with maternal care shortages in Iowa. She provided more colorful remarks as well, before finishing with this:
“President Schneider, you chose to use the power of the senate presidency to have the Iowa Senate celebrate women’s right to vote today and then in the very same day you allowed a debate on an ultra-extreme constitutional amendment that strips women and girls of their basic human rights,” Petersen said. “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? President Schneider, I’m glad you don’t have the power to take away women’s right to vote that our grandmas and our great-grandmas fought for more than 100 years ago because I know women intend to use that right.”
Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks spoke after that and told a personal story where one of her friends was advised to have an abortion. She advised against it. It was a difficult time, she said.
She took Petersen’s premise and used it against her.
“When you’re asking should I have the right to vote, the people of Iowa should have the right to vote on this issue,” she said.