Less than a month after a deadlocked Iowa Supreme Court left a six-week abortion ban unenforceable, lawmakers were set to return to the State Capitol Tuesday morning to consider a nearly identical set of restrictions on the procedure.
With large Republican majorities in both legislative chambers and a Republican governor who decried “the inhumanity of abortion,” the new restrictions seemed very likely to pass.
“I believe the pro-life movement is the most important human rights cause of our time,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week when she called the special session on abortion. She also lamented the court’s impasse, saying that “the lack of action ignores the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers, who will not rest until the unborn are protected by law.”
The session was expected to further cement Iowa’s sharp political shift to the right and end its increasingly rare status as a Republican-led state where abortions are allowed up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The new limits would add Iowa to a list of conservative states that includes Indiana, North Dakota and South Carolina that have passed abortion restrictions since the US Supreme Court ended the nation’s right to abortion last year.
The call for a special session angered but did not surprise Iowa Democrats, who celebrated the court’s deadlock a few weeks ago but knew Republicans were likely to try again. The Iowa Supreme Court impasse left in place a lower court’s injunction that blocked enforcement of a six-week ban, but it also left open the broader question of whether such restrictions are permissible under the state constitution. Abortion rights supporters said the new limits being considered by lawmakers put women’s health at risk and run counter to public opinion.
“We knew this was going to happen,” Sen. Pam Jochum, the Democratic minority leader, said in a statement, adding that Republicans are “rushing to take away the established rights and personal liberties of Iowans” and that they “hope they can do that. fast enough that Iowans won’t even notice.”
The new bill introduced by Republicans allows abortions up to about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. The bill includes exceptions after that point in situations involving rape or incest, in circumstances when the woman’s life is in serious danger or she faces a risk of certain permanent injuries or when fetal abnormalities “incompatible with life” are present.
Such restrictions on abortion in Iowa will further erode access to the procedure in the Midwest, where it is already limited. But a new law would almost certainly face a fresh legal challenge, and the outcome in the courts would again be uncertain.
Abortion is banned in almost all cases in the border states of Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and a new 12-week ban just passed in Nebraska. Illinois and Minnesota, which are led by Democrats, have permissive abortion laws and could become destinations for Iowa women seeking abortions. More than 3,700 abortions were performed in Iowa in 2021, according to state data, most of them with medication.
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll of this year found that 61 percent of adults in the state believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 35 percent believed it should be illegal in most or all cases.
But last year, as Democrats made a national run on abortion rights, taking back state legislatures and holding governorships, the party faltered in Iowa, which not long ago was seen as a state where voters could swing to either party. Governor Reynolds won re-election in a landslide, Republicans swept the state’s congressional seats and voters ousted the attorney general and treasurer, both Democrats who had held office for decades.
Although Iowans voted twice for Barack Obama, and Democrats held a majority in the State Senate as recently as 2016, the state is now solidly Republican. Only one Democrat, Auditor Rob Sand, continues to hold statewide office, and the national Democratic Party has moved to push Iowa’s coveted first-in-the-nation caucuses later in the nominating calendar.
Republicans, for their part, wasted no time in remaking Iowa in a more conservative image. Ms. Reynolds signed laws this year that prohibited hormone therapy for transgender children, loose child labor rules and limited Mr. Sand’s powers. And with Republicans holding Iowa at the start of their nominating calendar, presidential hopefuls flooded the state.
State Representative Jennifer Konfrst, the Democratic minority leader in the Iowa House, said the state is not as conservative as the latest election results suggested. Although Democrats likely won’t take back the legislature next year, she said they saw an opportunity to increase their state House numbers in 2024 and regain ground in the congressional delegation. New abortion limits, she said, would have the potential to mobilize Democratic voters who turned out in the last election.
“Our best case will be to hold Republicans accountable for going against what Iowans want,” said Ms. Konfrst, who represents parts of suburban Des Moines. “The fact that they are rushing it in July, a year before an election, shows that politically they know this is unpopular.”
But Iowa Republicans made no effort to hide their support for abortion restrictions, and they continued to win elections anyway. Matt Windschitl, the majority leader in the House, said, “Iovans elected us because of the promise to defend the unborn, and we will continue to follow through on that promise.”
The same poll that showed broad support for abortion rights this year also showed that more Iowans approved than disapproved of how the State Legislature is doing its job. And nearly two-thirds of those surveyed disapproved of President Biden’s job performance.