2020 Legislative Update

The Pro-Life lobby in the Iowa State Legislature

The 2020 Legislative Session will go down in the history books for many reasons.  Not the least of which was the suspension of the session due to Covid-19; a virus that ceased the entire world and the ramifications of which we will continue to endure for years to come.  

Prior to Covid-19, a phrase that we will often say, we were having a successful session in the pro-life movement.  We worked hard in garnering support for the Protect Life Amendment; the best and most direct path toward undoing the judicial overreach in 2018.  

For those not quite up to speed, the pro-life movement in the state of Iowa was finally seeing some major successes.  We had the trifecta of Republican control in the Governor’s office, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.  We were poised for major pro-life legislation.  We began this trifecta with the 20-week abortion ban and 72-hour waiting period.  While the 20-week abortion ban sailed into law with no hold-up, the 72-hour ruling was immediately contested by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.  They filed lawsuit and sought an injunction so that the 72-hour waiting period would not go into effect until the court process had gone through the necessary actions.  

We then move forward to the next legislative session in which we pass the first in the nation Heartbeat law.  The Governor signed this historic bill into law that May.  Shortly thereafter, the court finally made their ruling on the 72-hour waiting period.  As suspected, the court ruled the law unconstitutional and that it was an undue burden for women.  But they went a step further in creating law.  They determined that we had a fundamental right to abortion in our Iowa Constitution.  Anyone who has read our Constitution knows that is not in fact the case.  They legislated from the bench and created law.  As we know from our high school government class, the judicial branch is to interpret the law; the legislative branch is to make the law.  

In this ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court effectively took the role of creating law out of the hands of our duly elected legislators and took it upon themselves to determine the law of the land in the great state of Iowa.  Unelected judges created law with one stroke of the pen.

Because of this ruling, the heartbeat law never went into effect.  Polk County District Judge Hubbert ruled on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade (but he is not an activist judge At. All.) that because of the 72-hour ruling, the Heartbeat bill was ruled unconstitutional. 

While we still have the 20-week abortion ban on the books here in Iowa, it really is only a matter of time before that too is challenged in light of Iowa’s new ‘fundamental right’ to abortion in our Iowa Constitution.  

So, what do we do?  

First, we get the top legal advice in the country, Thomas More Society.  We enlist the help of top litigant Martin Cannon, who represented the state of Iowa in the Heartbeat lawsuit.  He, along with his team, met with the coalition of Pro-Life Leaders to talk to us about our options given this new right to abortion in our state.

They were clear; an amendment to the constitution was the surest and clearest path to undo what these activist, unelected judges did.  We needed to state that there was in fact NO fundamental right to abortion and essentially take our constitution back to what it was before this ruling.  This was the only way that we could be assured that if or when Roe vs. Wade falls and abortion law is given back to the individual states, that Iowa would not become the mecca of abortion in our country.  

Given the expert legal advice from the top pro-life and pro-family litigation firm in the country, our marching orders were clear.  With this, the coalition of pro-life leaders set out to convince the Republican lawmakers and the public that the protect life amendment was the right move forward.

We worked hard.  We met throughout the summer, talked at central committee meetings, events across the state, we conducted extensive polling on the appropriate language and title of this bill, we developed a strategic plan with goals for each month.  We did action alerts to our network, did outreach at the Iowa State Fair, and spoke at any event we could get at with our message.

The beginning of the legislative session proved promising; the poll-tested language for The Protect Life Amendment passed the Senate subcommittee, committee, and full floor vote.  It was now time for the House to do the same.  It passed out of the House subcommittee and committee but was stalled on the floor vote.  We were told from House leadership that they did not have the votes to move it forward to a full floor vote.  Keep in mind that the Republicans hold the majority in the House, so it was NOT the Democrats who were holding this up.  

Then we learned due to Covid-19, the session would be suspended.  It was a long couple of months until session resumed in June.  We were hopeful as we moved forward that the House would debate, vote, and pass this important legislation.  We were continually counseled by House Leadership to let them do their work to bring out the necessary votes and to not activate our network to contact them as that would only cause more harm than good.  We followed their direction.

Unfortunately, in the final two days of session, we learned that the amendment would not move forward and that the House was now presenting a new pro-life bill, a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion.  

We worked quickly to now activate our network; a decision in hindsight we should have done months ago had we not listened to House Leadership.  Unfortunately, we were a day late and a dollar short and the House in their wisdom and pro-life expertise, decided this new bill would be the path forward.

Despite our best efforts, The Protect Life Amendment failed to pass the 2020 Legislative session.  

We are now left with an unknown bill; a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion.  The hope is that this bill will attempt to do what our Protect Life Amendment was to do- reverse the 2018 court ruling that declared a fundamental right to abortion in our Iowa Constitution.  

So- what does this bill do?  Will it work?  Why was the pro-life lobby ineffective in our mission?  Why didn’t the legislators trust the pro-life movement in Iowa in our recommendation of The Protect Life Amendment?  Has the pro-life lobby become powerless in the eyes of our elected officials?

The day before Governor Reynolds even signed the 24-hour bill into law, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed a hearing for an injunction on the bill.  A telephonic hearing was held on the day she signed the bill into law on Monday June 29, 2020.  The following day, the judge granted Planned Parenthood’s motion and allowed the bill to be enjoined until the case went through the legal system.  In other words, the bill will not go into effect at this time in Iowa.  

At this point, there are more questions than answers.  

We are truly hopeful that the 24-hour waiting period bill will help our cause.  Right now, the Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders in the state of Iowa have some serious work to do in the months ahead before the 2021 session.

In the meantime, IFL will be working and educating as we have done for the last 48 years in the state of Iowa.  I hope you will stand with us as we continue this battle.