Steve King Is Trying to End Legal Abortion. Can One of These Democrats Stop Him? (Updated)

“People love to say, 'This is how you beat Steve King.' But in reality, nobody has beaten him. So what is the answer? What is the playbook?”

[Photo: Steve King]
A Democratic win in King’s district could put a swift end to his relentless attacks on reproductive rights. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

UPDATE, June 6, 9:36 a.m.: J.D. Scholten won Tuesday’s Democratic primary after receiving roughly 51 percent of votes, according to unofficial election results posted by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

Iowa Rep. Steve King (R) told Politico in April he hopes to pass a federal “heartbeat ban,” amounting to a near total abortion ban. He was candid about his end goal: to tee up a challenge to Roe v. Wade that would lead the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it.

King’s threats to abortion rights are no joke. His “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017” garnered 171 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson (MN). In early May, a similar bill—which King supported—was signed into law in his home state.

Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, which King represents, is thought to be safely in the hands of Republicans. But on the heels of recent victories in states like Alabama and Pennsylvania, Democrats are vying for seats once thought a lost cause in hopes of flipping the U.S. House of Representatives. And a Democratic win in King’s district could put a swift end to his relentless attacks on reproductive rights.

The three Democrats running in the district’s Tuesday primary have all voiced various levels of support for reproductive rights. “I am pro-choice and believe in a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion and that decision should be made between a woman and her doctor,” Leann Jacobsen, a businessperson running in the Democratic primary, told Rewire.News in an interview. “I think we need to trust women to do what is right for themselves and their families, and the government should not be involved in the decisions that I or you or any woman make about our own body.”

Jacobsen said that there are no restrictions on abortion care she would support. She would back funding for Planned Parenthood and protecting what she called “access points to services,” such as rural hospitals.

Jacobsen called legislation like King’s total abortion ban “really discouraging.”

“The heartbeat bill, you know the one they passed in Iowa … is one of the most restrictive laws in the country,” she said. “It is dangerous, it is unconstitutional, it is irresponsible, and it’s yet another attack on women. I believe strongly that we need elected leaders on all levels to stand up against laws like this that do more harm than they help.”

Though Jacobsen said reproductive rights matters to voters, she identified access to health care, public education, and jobs as some of the most important issues to voters in her district. “I am running on and I believe and support that everyone has access to quality affordable health care regardless of where they live. That and good education. It’s the cornerstone of our state, it’s the cornerstone of our country,” she said.

Jacobsen identified universal preschool, high-quality K-12 schools, and free community college among policies she supports. She voiced support for “universal health care—including a public option.”

“I believe that we should look at all solutions, any solution, that gets us to universal health care services for everybody,” Jacobsen said. “I believe, as a member of the Spencer Hospital Advisory Board, I see what happens when there are cracks in the system and I know how important it is that everybody has health care, access to quality, affordable health care. And I know that people in this district, in our hospitals, in our small businesses, really need a stable health-care system.”

J.D. Scholten, a former baseball player and a first-time candidate for office, identified health care as one of the most pressing issues for voters in the district. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a city or on a farm—making health care more affordable is a thing that everybody desires,” he said.

Scholten told Rewire.News in an interview that he is “for a public option to help stabilize the market.” 

“My long-term vision is something like Medicare-for-All,” he said.

Scholten’s website says he supports “ensuring women have control over their reproductive health.” Speaking with Rewire.News, he said he has his “foot in two different doors. On the one side, I’m Catholic, and I understand what my [religious] views on the subject are. But on the other side, Roe v. Wade just turned 45, and I’m 38 years old. So it’s all I’ve ever known. Ultimately, I feel that the federal government shouldn’t get in between a woman and her doctor.”

“I’m a guy, so I don’t want to be making decisions for women,” he continued. “I firmly believe that people in D.C., especially Steve King and myself, should not be making these decisions for women across this country.”

“I think there are a lot of other things we need to be talking about. Like the reasons why women have abortions,” he added, pointing out that those who have abortions are disproportionately low income. “And so that’s one of the reasons why I’m for universal health care or Medicare for All,” he said. “Because I think that would really reduce the abortion rate.”

When asked whether there are any abortion restrictions he would support, Scholten said he “would have to see the bill” to determine the answer. He gave the same response when asked about whether he would support a 20-week abortion ban, a version of which passed in the House in October 2017. He added that a measure would have to have “medical” exceptions, and when pressed about whether he would support a 20-week bill with life endangerment exceptions, he said, “I would have to know more about it and make sure I read all sides of things before I could give you a definitive answer.”

When asked by the Daily Times Herald in August if he would support any restrictions on abortion, Scholten said,  “I find that tough to answer because the late-term abortions tend to be medical, like there’s something that was dangerous to the child or to the mother.”

Scholten told Rewire.News that King’s total abortion ban was “wasting a lot of taxpayer money.” He added: “First of all, he’s proposed a lot of bills like this and they’ve never gone anywhere. So he’s wasting his time with it. And then if anything does come about it, it will most likely be unconstitutional.”

Scholten suggested the “House really has a very limited approach on” issues related reproductive rights, adding that “ultimately, if something does get passed through the house—and there are bills there, I’m well aware—ultimately the court will judge if it is constitutional or not.”

The third candidate vying for the Democratic nomination against King, pediatrician John Paschen, did not respond to requests from Rewire.News for an interview. He reportedly suggested to the Daily Times Herald in February that “he’s comfortable being described as politically pro-choice and personally pro-life.”

“My personal position is an elective abortion is a failure on society on many different levels, and until our society evolves to the point where abortion is not necessary, it’s got to be available and it’s got to be safe,” Paschen said, according to the news outlet.

Though Paschen’s campaign site contains little information about his platform, according to the Ames Tribune, he recently said he “wants to refinance and improve the Affordable Care Act … and add a public option, allowing people to buy into Medicare.”

“He said the public option would be a ‘dry run’ for a single-payer system like Medicare for All,” the outlet reported.

Despite election analysts’ predictions, both Scholten and Jacobsen expressed optimism about their campaigns. “I also live in rural Iowa and I’ve grown a broad vibrant base of support in areas that are going to be critical to unseat Steve King in November,” said Jacobsen.

Scholten, who has repeatedly out-fundraised King, offered some insight on his strategy. “People love to say, ‘This is how you beat Steve King.’ But in reality, nobody has beaten him. So what is the answer? What is the playbook?” he said.

“If you are authentic and get out there to the people, you prove that you’re a hard worker and trustworthy, prove that you’ll fight for the people of your district—that goes a long way. And I’m convinced of that here.”