‘Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” wrote Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady in a ruling striking down a 72-hour waiting period to get an abortion.
The Iowa law, signed in 2017, violated both the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution, Cady wrote, and “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.”
So the Iowa Senate’s Republican majority is now trying to amend Iowa’s Constitution to take that right away. If they succeed at getting Senate Joint Resolution 9 passed in two successive legislative sessions and then ratified by voters, state courts would be unable to use precedent to overturn extreme new restrictions on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. The Constitution would include language that it “does not secure or protect a right to abortion.”
Two recent Iowa court rulings relied on the state constitution, first to strike down the waiting period and then to reject a law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. In the latter case, Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert ruled that the Iowa abortion prohibition signed into law last year by Gov. Kim Reynolds violates Iowa’s Constitution. That law — the nation’s toughest — could have barred ending a pregnancy as early as six weeks along, critics said.
But Sen. Jake Chapman, the Adel Republican who has introduced the amendment, disagrees. “The notion that a woman has a right to an abortion under Iowa’s Constitution gravely misinterprets our state’s constitution,” he said.
It’s frankly alarming that a man who will never face an unwanted or problem pregnancy, never have to worry about conceiving as a result of a rape, or being a young, single woman or girl hard-pressed to support herself let alone a child, sees fit to tell those who could what they cannot do.
That’s not Chapman’s or anyone else’s business.
Yet lawmakers in a growing number of states, emboldened by legislative majorities and the conservative Supreme Court majority, are doing just that. They’re doing it by ascribing personhood to fetuses while reducing the women carrying them to mere vessels.
Two days before Huppert’s ruling, The New York Times devoted 11 pages of its Jan. 20 edition to a remarkable and chilling compilation of editorial reports examining state laws around the country that charge pregnant women with crimes in the name of fetal rights. More states, the introduction declared, “are treating a fetus as a person, and a woman as less of one.” State laws giving fetuses personhood status, says the Times, have put women behind bars or threatened them with arrest for making decisions about their pregnant bodies. Those decisions have included taking prescription drugs, not consenting to a C-section, and asking to be taken off life support.
“Women who fell down the stairs, who ate a poppy seed bagel and failed a drug test or who took legal drugs during pregnancy – drugs prescribed by their doctors – all have been accused of endangering their children,” says the report.
You have free articles remaining.
At least 38 states and the federal government now have fetal homicide laws which treat fetuses as potential crime victims, and make criminals of the women carrying them. Twenty-nine states have fetal homicide, or feticide, laws that regard ending a pregnancy, apart from abortion, as murder. This is not the way Iowa should be going.
“In the hands of zealous prosecutors, cautious doctors and litigious attorneys, these laws are creating a system of social control that polices pregnancy,” the piece said.
Such laws have enabled the prosecution of women who had stillbirths for how they disposed of the fetuses or for abusing a corpse or concealing a dead body, as if those fetuses had been live humans. A single Arkansas mother, Anne Bynum, was convicted of concealing a birth after she took labor inducing pills and had a stillborn. A jury sentenced her up to six years. She served 59 days in prison.
An eight-months-pregnant woman who tried to kill herself was charged with murder after she was taken to the hospital and survived, but the baby died. A New York woman was sentenced up to nine years for manslaughter for not wearing a seatbelt when her car crashed. The baby she delivered by C-section died several days later.
The laws weigh heaviest on poor women of color with less education, health care and job access. In the 1980s and 90s, they especially targeted low-income pregnant women addicted to crack cocaine, though that was ultimately deemed to be no more harmful than powder cocaine, alcohol or tobacco to a developing fetus. Women in 35 states have faced criminal charges for drug use during pregnancy.
Some legal scholars believe if an effort to get a fetal personhood amendment into the U.S. Constitution succeeds, it would end legal abortion and even some forms of birth control. Iowa Republicans have tried to get one in the state’s constitution since 2013.
The amendment Chapman now proposes is worded similarly to one Alabama voters passed in November, which says, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion … .” A similar Tennessee amendment was upheld by a federal appeals court judge a year ago.
On the other side, some unfortunate characterizations by supporters, including Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, of a Democratic-sponsored late-term abortion bill in that state, has unnecessarily inflamed the abortion debate. The bill was meant to permit late-term abortions when a doctor signs off that a mother’s physical or mental safety is at risk. But bill sponsor Kathy Tran made it sound as if abortion at the point of delivery would be acceptable, and Northam seemed to be saying even post-delivery denial of resuscitation was an option. That’s nonsense.
People’s deep-seated beliefs deserve respect to the point where they choose to live by them. But they are not free to impose those values on others. Public officials needlessly provoke divisions when, like. Gov. Kim Reynolds, they call abortion “equivalent to murder” or propose legislation to erect a monument to abortion victims, as four Iowa Republican representatives, led by Rep. Dean Fisher of Montour, are doing.
It’s time to stop this crusade and these constant threats on women’s rights and start fixing hunger, homelessness, sickness, environmental destruction and more of what ails adults and children already on this planet.