Governor Kim Reynolds has until Saturday to decide whether to sign or veto Republicans’ 6-week abortion ban. There’s probably a 99% chance she signs it. But before it actually happens, let’s take a look at the potential political fallout – as well as her huge opportunity here – and consider how things could play out. (This will be about the political aspect of it – the policy and moral side is pretty clear.)
Notably, Reynolds’ office has reiterated with reporters several times this week that she’s “pro-life,” but they conspicuously haven’t committed to signing it yet.
Still, the most likely outcome is that Reynolds signs the bill. Why wouldn’t she? She’s described herself as solidly “pro-life,” her base will love it and it could motivate evangelical conservatives to turn out in record numbers. If nonstop controversies from Donald Trump’s presidency and gridlock weigh down enthusiasm on the right, Reynolds can easily point to this as the party’s crowning achievement in delivering on Republican priorities.
But there’s significant dangers that will easily outweigh those benefits from the base. This legislation is incredibly unpopular. It’s cruel and dangerous to women. It might shut down the University of Iowa’s OB-GYN program. It’s unconstitutional. It’ll drag Iowa into an expensive court fight. It solidifies the perception that the current Republican government cares only about extreme ideological battles than actually accomplishing things Iowans care about.
It will devastate support for Republicans among suburban voters, independents, moderates, women and young people. It will cause tons of money from pro-choice groups around the country to flow into the state to defeat her. It will be a constant distraction from what Reynolds would prefer her campaign message to be: tax cuts, mental health reform, job training and her own personal story.
In short, it could define her governorship on an issue that she never set out to center it around. And that’s why, even though it’s still extremely unlikely, you could see how a Reynolds veto could play out.
Most Statehouse watchers believe both Reynolds and Speaker Linda Upmeyer did not want this 6-week abortion ban bill. Indeed, even several Republican senators openly admitted they threatened to hold up the entire budget if they didn’t get a vote on it. They wouldn’t have needed to do that were they not getting pushback from House leadership. The idea is that both Reynolds and Upmeyer care about pro-life issues, but that’s not their top priority in office.
And a major critique of Reynolds’ still-young governorship is that she has yet to get out from under Terry Branstad’s shadow. When you think about it, what major move or decision has Reynolds done that Branstad wouldn’t have? To many, she’s still just Branstad’s protege, and hasn’t lived up to the legacy he created.
Vetoing this bill would change that. It would be a political earthquake in Iowa that we’d be talking about for over a decade. And it would very decidedly set her apart from Branstad and finally define her governorship on her own terms. Branstad wasn’t obsessed with social conservative issues, but happily went along with the fringes of the party when they wanted something.
Reynolds could present herself as someone willing to stand up to her own party when they go too far on an issue or back an unrealistic plan for ideological issues alone. If Iowa wants to reduce abortions, she could argue, there are plenty of other ways to do that that won’t immediately get struck down by the court and put Iowa into a protracted legal battle. It’s quite questionable as to whether this ban will ever have the results the right wants it to.
The backlash within her party could be intense and unpredictable. It would be risky, for sure. She might not face too much of a loss from donors, as her biggest ones are more from the business side of the party. But it would risk lower turnout for Republicans across the board and damage their grassroots volunteer efforts.
Beyond the base, however, such a move might just win her the election. Those who don’t care too deeply about abortion one way or the other might appreciate her willingness to buck her own party in such a dramatic fashion. She would keep moderate Republicans and suburban voters in the red column. And independent female voters, who could secure Reynolds’ election if they identify with the first Iowa female governor, may be swayed by it (though they would also have to forget about the 20-week ban and the Planned Parenthood defunding).
It would also be a way to counter some of Fred Hubbell’s messaging, if that’s who Reynolds’ team thinks they’ll face in the general election. Hubbell has spent a significant portion of his ads touting his support of Planned Parenthood.
And how a veto would affect turnout for other races would be intriguing. Democrats’ chances of retaking many suburban legislative seats could be hurt, but swingy rural districts might come more into play if frustrated social conservatives stay home.
Anyway, a veto almost certainly won’t happen, but it’s interesting to think about. And it’s an idea that Reynolds shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.
Of course, she should also just veto it because it’s a horrible bill.
by Pat Rynard