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Iowa Republicans, backed by corporate America, push new abortion ban
It has been just over a year since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the Constitutional right to an abortion. Since then, abortion has been completely banned, with limited or no exceptions, in 13 states, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Two states, Florida and Georgia, imposed laws banning abortion after six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant. North Carolina enacted a ban on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. In other states, including Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming, efforts to ban or severely restrict abortion rights are on hold pending litigation.
These restrictions have created a public health crisis. Doctors in states with severe restrictions on abortion, fearing criminal prosecution and the loss of their medical license, struggle to provide care to patients even when continuing a pregnancy would put their lives at risk. Dozens of abortion clinics have shuttered in states where the procedure was outlawed, lengthening wait times in states where abortion is still legal. In many areas of the Southwest, women must travel 200 miles or more to reach an abortion clinic.
But the impact of the decision continues to reverberate around the country. And things could soon get worse.
Today, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) is convening a special session of the legislature for the "sole and single purpose" of enacting a law banning abortion after six weeks. In 2018, Reynolds signed a six-week abortion ban into law. But that law was struck down in 2019 by an Iowa judge who ruled it violated state and federal law. That ruling came before the Supreme Court overturned Roe, but the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that "the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy" is protected by the Iowa Constitution. The court said, “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.” Any restrictions on abortion in Iowa, the court said, must be "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest." In the 2018 case, the Iowa court found a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion did not meet that standard.
By 2021, however, the composition of the Iowa Supreme Court had changed, and the court became significantly more conservative. Reynolds asked the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. In June 2022, shortly before the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe, the Iowa Supreme Court said it "isn’t obligated to abide by precedent, especially in cases evaluating constitutional rights or in cases decided recently." It ruled that abortion isn't protected by the Iowa constitution and reinstated the 24-hour waiting period.
After Roe was overturned, Reynolds asked the Iowa courts to reinstate the 2018 six-week abortion ban. Last month, in a surprise, the court deadlocked 3-3 on the issue, leaving the injunction again the 2018 abortion ban in place. (One of the members of the Iowa Supreme Court declined to participate because her former law firm represented an abortion clinic.) The three justices who opposed reinstating the law said it would be "legislating from the bench to take a statute that was moribund when it was enacted and has been enjoined for four years and then to put it in effect."
In response, Reynolds released this statement:
To say that today’s lack of action by the Iowa Supreme Court is a disappointment is an understatement. Not only does it disregard Iowa voters who elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of unborn children, but it has sided with a single judge in a single county who struck down Iowa’s legislation based on principles that now have been flat-out rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court… But the fight is not over. There is no right more sacred than life, and nothing more worthy of our strongest defense than the innocent unborn. We are reviewing our options in preparation for continuing the fight.
The special session is Reynolds' response to the Iowa Supreme Court's decision.
In anticipation of today's session, a bill has been introduced in both the Senate and the House, prohibiting abortions after “a fetal heartbeat” is detected. In the House, the legislation is sponsored by Representative Ann Meyer (R), the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Jason Schultz (R), the chair of the Committee on State Government.
The notion of a "fetal heartbeat" is itself controversial. An ultrasound can detect some activity at about six weeks of gestation. But "flickering that we're seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you 'hear' is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine," Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained. The sound, which typically is present about six weeks into a pregnancy, does not "indicate the viability of a pregnancy."
The bill includes an exception for rape, but only if the rape "is reported within forty-five days of the incident to a law enforcement agency or to a public or private health agency which may include a family physician." An incest exception requires a similar report within 140 days. There are also limited exceptions for fetal abnormalities and the life of the mother.
Corporations paying for abortion-related travel back Iowa politicians behind new proposed ban
Last summer, many corporations responded to the overturning of Roe v. Wade by promising to pay for any necessary abortion-related travel by employees. In this way, they acknowledged that abortion is an essential part of health care. Many of these same companies, however, have also donated to Reynolds, Meyer, and Schultz.
In August 2022, Walmart expanded “its employee health-care plans to cover more situations in which its staff might seek an abortion,” stating that it would offer “‘travel support’ for employees and dependents if they require access to a health service covered by Walmart’s insurance plan but there is no viable provider within 100 miles of their location.” Since 2021, however, Walmart has donated $7,000 to Reynolds, $1,000 to Schultz, and $2,000 to Meyer.
Wells Fargo told its employees in August 2022 that it would “expand its existing travel benefits for medical coverage to include reimbursement for abortion travel 'in accordance with applicable law.’” Since 2021, however, Wells Fargo has donated $2,000 to Reynolds and $1,500 to Schultz.
UnitedHealth Group also promised employees that it “would cover abortion-related travel.” But at the same time, the company has donated $7,000 to Reynolds and $1,500 to Schultz since 2021.
Other corporations backing the trio that did not publicly announce new policies on abortion-related travel include Nationwide ($29,250), Deere & Company ($15,000), Raytheon Technologies ($7,500), Koch Industries ($6,000), Pfizer ($5,750), Home Depot ($5,000), Tyson Foods ($5,000), and Chevron ($4,500).
Iowa voters support abortion rights
The Iowa legislature is dominated by Republicans who generally oppose abortion rights. But passing abortion restrictions post-Roe, even in states with conservative legislatures, has sometimes proven challenging. In Nebraska, for example, a six-week abortion ban failed to pass the legislature.
It is unclear whether the effort to pass a six-week ban in Iowa will face similar difficulties, but the policy is extremely unpopular among Iowa voters. A March 2023 poll by the Des Moines Register found "[s]ixty-one percent of Iowa adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 35% say the procedure should be illegal in most or all cases." Abortion rights have been steadily gaining support for the last 15 years. In 2008, only 48% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.