Support for abortion rights is rising among Iowa adults, according to the latest statewide survey by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom.
The findings illustrate why Republican lawmakers have tried to conceal the goal of their quest to add abortion language to Iowa’s constitution.
DOUBLE-DIGIT SUPPORT FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register on September 25 that 57 percent of the 805 Iowa adults surveyed said “abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 38% say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and 5% aren’t sure. The last time the question was asked, in a March 2020 Iowa Poll, 49% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 45% said it should be illegal in all or most cases.”
The new Selzer survey produced favorable numbers for several Republican politicians and very low approval for President Joe Biden, so it can’t be waived off as a sample skewed toward liberal views. Even taking into account the margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, it’s clear a majority of Iowans support keeping abortion legal in most or all cases.
Another encouraging finding for pro-choice advocates: 65 percent of respondents not affiliated with either party support keeping abortion legal, as do 63 percent of women. Only 49 percent of male respondents said they favor legal abortion, though. Gruber-Miller also noted “a geographic divide: 66% of city dwellers and 67% of suburbanites say abortion should be legal, while just 46% of those who live in rural areas agree.”
REPUBLICANS REFRAMED EFFORT TO MAKE ABORTION BANS POSSIBLE
Every year since the GOP gained full control of state government, most Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate have approved some legislation targeting reproductive rights and/or Planned Parenthood. In 2018, Republicans approved a bill that would have banned almost all abortions after about six weeks gestation—before most women know they are pregnant. Governor Kim Reynolds signed that legislation, but a Polk County District Court later struck down the law, citing an Iowa Supreme Court ruling from 2018.
Republicans know they need to overturn that Supreme Court precedent in order to take choices away from pregnant Iowans. But they also know efforts to ban abortion are unpopular. In Selzer’s March 2021 Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom, only 31 percent supported amending “the Iowa Constitution to say it does not recognize a right to abortion or require public funding of abortion,” while 58 percent of respondents opposed that idea and 11 percent were unsure.
As a result, when the Iowa House and Senate approved a state constitutional amendment in May, they rewrote the proposal to present it as a way “to protect unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point of birth.” (Never mind that Iowa has has banned abortion after 20 weeks since 2017 and has banned third-trimester abortions for decades.)
Republicans who spoke in favor of the constitutional amendment emphasized that it would not directly ban abortion, glossing over the fact that the legislature and Reynolds would enact such a ban at their earliest opportunity, should the constitution be changed.
Altering Iowa’s constitution is a long process. Republicans would need to hold their legislative majorities in 2022, then pass an identically-worded amendment in 2023 or 2024 in order to get the abortion proposal on a statewide ballot. It would be added to the constitution only if a majority of Iowa voters approved the language.
WHAT IOWA’S PRO-CHOICE MAJORITY MEANS FOR 2022
Does Selzer’s latest poll prove abortion could be a winning issue for Iowa Democratic candidates in 2022? Not necessarily.
The U.S. Supreme Court has increased the salience of reproductive rights by allowing an egregious Texas law to take effect a few weeks ago. The justices will raise the stakes further as they consider a pending case from Mississippi, which has sought to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. The court will hear oral arguments in December and is likely to issue a ruling in early 2022.
Reynolds joined a group of Republican governors this summer to ask the Supreme Court to uphold that Mississippi law by overturning its Roe v Wade precedent, as well as the Casey standard from 1992, which held that restrictions on abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb cannot place an “undue” burden on women.
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said on the latest “Iowa Press” program his caucus hadn’t discussed specific plans for more anti-abortion legislation next year. But pressure on Republicans to act will be immense, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court scraps or severely curtails Roe before Iowa lawmakers adjourn in April or May.
Reynolds would surely sign any law copying Texas or Mississippi restrictions on abortion, which could make more Iowans likely to consider reproductive rights as they cast their ballots next November.
But remember that “geographic divide.” Democrats already hold most state legislative districts in urban areas. The battleground Iowa House and Senate districts are either in suburbs or contain small to medium-sized cities. Democratic candidates in suburban areas could benefit from the 2-to-1 sentiment in favor of abortion rights. However, many pro-choice suburban moderates have historically voted for Republicans based on their views about other issues, like taxes.
Selzer’s poll suggests that in legislative districts containing smaller cities and rural areas, the majority of voters may not support keeping abortion legal. So the issue could cut in favor of Republicans locally, even if it’s a negative among the statewide electorate.
The latest polling on abortion is unambiguously good news for one Iowa politician: U.S. Representative Cindy Axne. No matter how the Congressional districts are drawn on Iowa’s next map, Polk County (containing mostly urban and suburban areas) will be the population center of the third district. So assuming Axne seeks re-election to the U.S. House, she will have a largely pro-choice electorate to win over.
Axne has consistently backed reproductive rights, most recently on September 24, when she supported the Women’s Health Protection Act. That bill would establish “a statutory right for health care providers to provide, and their patients to receive, abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions, limitations, and bans that delay, and at times, completely obstruct, access to abortion.” The three Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House (Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and Randy Feenstra) all oppose abortion rights and voted against the effort to codify Roe.
P.S.–If Iowa Republicans really want to reduce abortions, they should focus on preventing unintended pregnancies. That approach has been successful in many other states. In contrast, the number of abortions performed in Iowa significantly increased during each of the last two years, reversing more than a decade of declines.
Top photo by Robin Marty, taken at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 2016, available on Flickr and published here with permission.