Republicans Push Anti-Choice Constitutional Amendments to Circumvent Courts: Spotlight on the States

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Republicans Push Anti-Choice Constitutional Amendments to Circumvent Courts: Spotlight on the States

Dennis Carter

The effort to change state constitutions, making it easier for Republican lawmakers to end legal abortion, continues apace in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Every week, Rewire.News highlights trends in abortion-related legislation moving through the states, and how those bills might affect abortion access. This week, we take a look at an anti-choice constitutional amendment advancing in Iowa, a “personhood” amendment introduced in Wisconsin, Wyoming Republicans’ near-total abortion ban, and a “born alive” bill in West Virginia. 

Iowa

Taking a page out of the Kansas GOP’s playbook, Republicans in the Iowa Senate last Thursday approved a proposed amendment that would ensure the state’s constitution doesn’t protect the right to abortion care.

The amendment is in response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision declaring the right to abortion guaranteed by the state’s constitution.

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Republican lawmakers called the amendment necessary to counter an “illegitimate” decision by “judicial activists.” But senate Democrats point out the proposal would give anti-choice lawmakers the green light to further restrict and ban abortion without fear of judicial interference (like the unconstitutional near-total abortion ban Iowa passed in 2018, which was blocked a year later by a state judge).

The proposed amendment passed along party lines in the Republican-majority state senate, the Des Moines Register reported. An identical resolution passed the Iowa House’s judiciary committee the previous day. If the amendment passes the house, the full legislature will have to approve it again in 2021 or 2022 before it can go before voters in a statewide election.

A similar strategy by Kansas Republicans fell short in the first week of February, when four Republicans in the state house voted against the effort to undermine a Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights. Kansas Republicans are expected to revive the anti-choice constitutional amendment later in the session.

While the Iowa Senate was busy voting on the amendment bill last week, Republicans in a house subcommittee approved legislation that would force doctors to tell medication abortion patients about so-called abortion reversal, a dubious—and potentially dangerous—practice not recognized by mainstream medical organizations.

Wisconsin 

Unlike in Kansas or Iowa, the Wisconsin Supreme Court hasn’t established a state constitutional right to abortion—but the possibility has some Republicans so spooked that they’re once again pushing a “personhood” amendment that would outlaw abortion care and many kinds of contraception by giving full constitutional rights to a fertilized egg. The measure would amend the state constitution to make sure Wisconsin’s pre-Roe abortion ban can go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.

The Wisconsin House committee on health held a public hearing last Thursday to consider the proposed amendment. Testifying in support of the measure, state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) said he wants to prevent the Wisconsin Supreme Court from ever issuing a ruling like in Kansas or Iowa.

“The proposal faces no chance of getting through the Republican-controlled legislature this spring,” according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Though the amendment has the backing of Pro-Life Wisconsin, it’s opposed by the state’s largest anti-choice group, Wisconsin Right to Life.

Jacque proposed a similar amendment in 2011, when Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. They still hold the house and state senate, but Gov. Tony Evers (D) broke the GOP trifecta in 2018.

Abortion rights advocates said the “personhood” bill was an extreme measure that would strip people of their bodily autonomy. “The message Republicans are sending women by bringing this bill forth in Wisconsin is chilling,” Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said in a statement. “To give full legal protection to a zygote at the risk of denying women autonomy over their bodies and their lives is wrong on so many levels.”

Wyoming

Wyoming could be the next state to pass a near-total ban on abortion, otherwise known as a “fetal heartbeat” ban. Such legislation outlaws abortion around six weeks into pregnancy—before most people know they’re pregnant, at a point when there is no heart or fetus, and the only thing that can be measured is electrical activity in an area of the embryo called the fetal pole.

The near-total ban was introduced in the state senate on Friday and referred to the senate labor committee. It would go into effect July 1 if passed and signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon (R), though a legal challenge is almost guaranteed. The bill has ten co-sponsors across the house and state senate. Meanwhile, the Wyoming House agreed to consider a bill that would impose a forced 48-hour waiting period on people seeking abortion care.

West Virginia

With the help of Democratic lawmakers, West Virginia’s legislature is aiming to become the latest to stigmatize later abortion care with an inflammatory “born alive” bill.

The Republican-majority state senate passed the anti-choice legislation unanimously last week, the Associated Press reported. Twelve Democrats in the state senate voted for this bill. State Sen. Mike Romano (D-Harrison) told the AP that the legislation “isn’t going to change anything” since murder is already illegal—but he ended up voting for the bill anyway.

The West Virginia House, which already passed the bill in January, now has to approve the senate’s amended version.

Attacking later abortion care with misinformation has become a staple of the anti-choice movement, leading to legislation based on the myth that babies are born during so-called attempted abortions. U.S. Senate Republicans held a hearing last week based on this myth.