Shortly after 3:00 this afternoon, Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Iowa. It is the most restrictive measure in the entire country.
“It’s a big day in Iowa,” Reynolds said at the bill signing in her office, surrounded by young children, activists and legislators. “I believe that all innocent life is precious & sacred, and as governor, I have pledged to do everything in my power to protect it … This is about life, and I’m not going to back down.”
The law will be scheduled to go into effect on July 1, but legal challenges will prevent that. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU pledged at a rally earlier today that they would immediate challenge the law in court. A long and expensive court battle will likely drag on for years.
Conservatives hope that legal process will eventually end up at the U.S. Supreme Court and result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, outlawing abortion in America. There’s doubts that will actually happen, but if Donald Trump wins reelection in 2020, an even more conservative Supreme Court could do exactly that with the Iowa law as the catalyst.
Just as Iowa gay rights supporters hail April 3 as the anniversary of the Varnum decision that legalized marriage equality in 2009, we may soon mark May 4 as another historic date for Iowans’ rights (or lack thereof) – and possibly for the entire nation.
An immediate injunction will halt the law’s implementation for now, but the political, societal and reputation ramifications will be felt now and long into the future.
For starters, the stakes in the 2018 election now rise higher than ever. The year was already seen as a do-or-die moment for the Democratic Party. Failure to retake either the governorship or one of the legislative chambers could mean Iowa enters permanent red state status for decades to come.
Now, the ideological and policy implications are even greater. Iowa is adopting the most conservative, restrictive laws to women’s health in the entire nation, going further than even Deep South states that have been ruled by Republicans for decades. If there are no political consequences for that – if Reynolds is not defeated and GOP lawmakers not swept from office – then what does that say about Iowans’ acceptance of it? What does it say about the broader Midwest and whether Democrats can compete in this region?
Iowa women, even if the law’s implementation is blocked, will question their place in their communities here. The bill made exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but with particularly troublesome provisions. A woman must report to law enforcement, a health agency or family doctor within 45 days their rape in order to be eligible for an abortion past the time a heartbeat can be detected (typically six weeks).
However, the traumatizing consequences of rape don’t always lead women to report it right away. And they might not realize they have been impregnated until after the deadline passes. Reynolds is effectively forcing women to tell the story of their rape before they may be ready to do so. Though the law will be challenged, it will still make women question the respect their government leaders have for them if they’re willing to impose such draconian measures on women facing impossible situations.
Finally, Iowa’s reputation will be forever tarnished by Reynolds and state Republicans’ actions. The state’s embrace of Trump, even as his reckless action on trade threatened the local economy, has set Iowa apart among others. Iowa’s Republican leaders have enthusiastically embraced the most controversial and morally compromised president in the nation’s history with little hesitation. Now, the state is moving backwards on basic rights that have been a part of American life since 1973.
And with the Iowa Caucus being the focus of the next Democratic presidential primary, national attention will shine on Iowa’s rightward lurch through the 2020 caucus. The entire Democratic primary may revolve around how best to fight back against incredibly restrictive abortion laws like Iowa’s. Every political watcher in the country will become intimately familiar with our state’s new laws.
To that end, who will want to move here? Iowa may become the most dangerous place in the nation for families looking to have children – options are gone for those who may face complications or worse. And would any young person want to relocate to a state moving in such an opposite direction of the views of most in their generation?
That’s a question Iowa voters will have to ponder when they go to the polls in 2018.
by Pat Rynard