UPDATE: The bill text was published on the legislature’s website on July 7. It closely matches the 2018 law, which would ban most abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. Original post follows.
Governor Kim Reynolds has called a special session of the Iowa legislature for July 11, “with the sole purpose of enacting” new abortion restrictions. The move suggests Republicans will approve something comparable to the 2018 law that would ban almost all abortions after about six weeks, with very limited exceptions, rather than a total ban preferred by some GOP lawmakers.
The Iowa Senate approved the 2018 abortion ban along party lines. Of the six Iowa House Republicans who voted against that legislation, only one (State Representative Jane Bloomingdale) still serves in the legislature. Most of the 64 current House Republicans had not yet been elected to the body during the 2018 session. However, I expect nearly all of them will support a six-week ban, as will their Senate GOP colleagues.
Iowa Democratic lawmakers have long been united against new abortion restrictions. In statements released on July 5, House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst and Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum emphasized that a majority of Iowans support reproductive rights.
Numerous opinion polls—most recently a March 2023 Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register—have indicated that a clear majority of Iowans believe abortion should be mostly legal. Nevertheless, Reynolds’ written statement announcing the special session portrayed her stance as reflecting the people’s choice: “Iowans have elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of the unborn and, in doing so, they have voted strongly in support of pro-life principles and against the arbitrary destruction of innocent, defenseless lives.”
The biggest question is how much will Republicans alter the text of the 2018 bill? As Bleeding Heartland discussed in more detail here, its exceptions for rape and incest would leave out many survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Its exceptions for “medical emergency” and “medically necessary” abortions would not cover many situations where continuing a pregnancy could be risky.
Many women have nearly died or suffered irreversible fertility loss in states that are enforcing near-total abortion bans. Others have been forced to continue pregnancies for months despite conditions that gave their fetuses no chance of survival outside the womb. Early rupture of membranes often leads to infection; carrying a fetus with severe anomalies can put the mother at risk of a stroke or other life-threatening conditions.
Assuming Iowa lawmakers approve a new abortion ban next week, Planned Parenthood and others will surely file a lawsuit soon. Courts may temporarily block enforcement of that law while litigation proceeds, and it could be one to two years before the case reaches the Iowa Supreme Court.
That court’s recent split decision, which left the 2018 abortion ban permanently enjoined, indicates that Justices Christopher McDonald, Matthew McDermott, and David May would be inclined to uphold any state regulations on abortion. On the other hand, Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justices Thomas Waterman and Edward Mansfield might consider a near-total ban to intrude too much on women’s bodily autonomy. The seventh Iowa Supreme Court justice, Dana Oxley, recused herself from the latest case.
Appendix 1: Full text of Senate File 359, the abortion ban Iowa lawmakers approved in 2018
Appendix 2: Full text of July 5 news release from governor’s office
Gov. Reynolds Calls Special Session to Enact Pro-life Legislation
DES MOINES – Today, Governor Reynolds announced she will convene the General Assembly of Iowa on Tuesday, July 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m. for a special session with the sole purpose of enacting legislation that addresses abortion and protects unborn lives.
“Iowans have elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of the unborn and, in doing so, they have voted strongly in support of pro-life principles and against the arbitrary destruction of innocent, defenseless lives,” stated Governor Reynolds.
“In 2018, I proposed, the legislature passed, and I proudly signed into law legislation that protected unborn babies from abortion once a heartbeat was detectable. After years of litigation, the Iowa Supreme Court was split 3-3 last month in its opinion regarding whether a lower court’s injunction of the Fetal Heartbeat Law should be dissolved. This lack of action disregards the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers who will not rest until the unborn are protected by law.
“I believe the pro-life movement is the most important human rights cause of our time. Not only will I continue to fight against the inhumanity of abortion, but I will also remain committed to supporting women in planning for motherhood, promoting fatherhood and parenting, and continuing policies that encourage strong families. These are the most essential building blocks of our society, and they are what will keep the foundation of our state and country strong for generations to come.”
The governor has issued a Proclamation of Special Session in accordance with Article IV, Section 11, and Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution of the State of Iowa.
Appendix 3: Full text of July 5 news release from Iowa House and Senate Democratic leaders
Iowa Democratic Leaders Respond to GOP Special Session Set to Take Away Reproductive Freedom
Following Governor Reynolds’ call for a special session, the Democratic Leaders of the Iowa House and Senate released the following statements on Republican plans to end reproductive freedom in Iowa.
Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights:
“Governor Reynolds’ call for a special session today is all politics, when our work should be about people. She caved to the special interests and is now demanding lawmakers send her a bill to ban abortion in just six days.
It’s clear the Governor and GOP leaders aren’t listening to Iowans because a strong majority supports reproductive freedom. Everyone deserves the right to make their own health care decisions, especially when it comes to reproductive care and abortion. Politicians and judges have no place interfering in someone else’s decisions about when to start a family.
Iowa Democrats will always put people over politics and fight to protect our reproductive freedom.”
Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum of Dubuque:
“We knew this would happen. Republican extremists, led by Gov. Kim Reynolds, are rushing to take away Iowans’ established rights and personal freedoms. And they hope they can do it fast enough that Iowans won’t even notice.
Now is the time for Iowans to fight back against an extreme abortion ban that will cost women their lives as well as their freedom. Iowans see how abortion bans have caused heartbreak, complications, and death in other states. We won’t stand for it here.
This attack on reproductive healthcare is opposed by a large majority of Iowans. Senate Democrats will be fighting for that majority on the Senate floor next week, and we call on every Iowan to join us.”
Appendix 4: Full text of July 5 news release from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa
Gov. Kim Reynolds Calls Special Session Attacking Abortion Access
Any ban or restriction on abortion is harmful and takes away Iowans’ ability to control their body and future
Des Moines, IA— Today, Governor Kim Reynolds announced the Iowa Legislature will convene for a special session on July 11, 2023, to restrict abortion care. This comes just weeks after an Iowa Supreme Court order denied Gov. Reynolds’ request to implement a ban that would have outlawed abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy, well before most people know they are pregnant. With the 2018 ban permanently put to rest by the courts, Republicans are taking new steps to attack essential health care.
Pursing abortion bans goes against the will of Iowans, 61% of whom support safe and legal abortion. The effort is part of a years-long trend by anti-abortion politicians to cut access to health care in Iowa and would only further health inequities. Iowans are increasingly traveling out of state to access necessary abortion care due to current restrictions. Gov. Reynolds also funneled $2 million in taxpayer money to anti-abortion centers this year, while attorney general Brenna Bird paused funding for sexual assault survivors to receive emergency contraceptives and, if needed, abortion care.
Statement from Ruth Richardson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States:
“Since the fall of Roe an intentional patchwork of laws has created confusion—a lot of people don’t know what they can do legally and where they are protected. Only two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court blocked a near-total abortion ban. Now Governor Kim Reynolds is stoking new fear and confusion at the expense of Iowans who are simply trying to access the essential health care they need. The whiplash Iowans are experiencing right now is unconscionable.”
Statement from Mazie Stilwell, Director of Public Affairs of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa:
“Calling a special session in the middle of summer for the sole purpose of stripping Iowans of the liberties they prize is not only unprecedented but shows the drastic lengths power-hungry politicians will take to pass deeply unpopular policies. A growing majority of Iowans support abortion access. Make no mistake—we are prepared to mobilize supporters across the state to demand state legislators reject any proposed abortion ban or further restrictions on abortion care.”
Top image: Governor Kim Reynolds signs a law banning nearly all abortions on May 4, 2018. Photo originally published on the governor’s Facebook page.