Iowa’s “Protect Life Amendment” to state Constitution “on track,” proponents say

By Dave Andrusko

The Iowa legislature is closing in on placing a pro-life amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, a corrective action needed in response to a 2018 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court holding that the state constitution affirms a right to abortion.

The House and Senate –House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 2— have passed slightly different language but, according to reporter James Q. Lynch, “proponents say there is now agreement between the chambers on the wording of the proposal — which must be approved by two consecutive general assemblies before Iowa voters decide whether to amend the constitution.”

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, told Lynch, “We’ve worked hard to educate Iowans and also advocate to our legislators that we feel very strongly in getting the Protect Life Amendment passed this session.” She added, “It’s better for us to get it passed this session so we can work on some other important pro-life and pro-family bills in the next legislative session.”

It’s not lack of support that explains the delay, according to Senate President Jake Chapman, but rather because “whenever we’re talking about a constitutional amendment, we need to be very careful what we propose and get language right.”

SJR 2 was approved 30-17 and reads

‘To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

HJ 5 reads 

“To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

What the Iowa Supreme Court did in 2018 “was even more extreme than Roe v. Wade,” DeWitte told Lynch.

DeWitte said the amendment will “allow our elected representatives and the people of Iowa to make decisions about the health and safety and well-being of its citizens.” Without it, there is no way to prevent late-term abortions “even up to the point of birth.”

Justice Mansfield was one of two dissenters in the 5-2 decision rendered June 29, 2018. His dissent was particularly powerful, both for what it said about the attitude of the author of the decision–Justice Cady– and the history of abortion in Iowa. Referring to the 1992 Casey decision, Justice Mansfield wrote

Unfortunately, the majority opinion lacks this sense of balance and perspective. Forgoing accepted methods of constitutional interpretation, the opinion instead relies at times on an undertone of moral criticism toward abortion opponents. From reading the majority opinion, one would barely know that abortion—with few exceptions—was continuously illegal in Iowa from the time our constitution was adopted until the United Supreme Court overrode our law by deciding Roe v. Wade. From reading the majority opinion, one would scarcely be aware that many women in Iowa are prolife and strongly support the same law the court concludes unconstitutionally discriminates against them.

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