Domestic violence, religious freedom, bodily autonomy, and women’s abilities to decide their own future. All of those and more are on the line now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade according to abortion access advocates.
Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) hosted a roundtable in Des Moines on Wednesday to hear perspectives from people who work with the Iowans who need abortions and will be impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision.
Axne was joined by representatives from Planned Parenthood and grassroots organizations in Iowa that see the impact of reproductive rights in their corners.
For now, abortion is still legal in Iowa up to the 20th week of pregnancy, but state Republicans and Gov. Kim Reynolds have been vocal about restricting or outright banning the procedure in the state.
“We know what they’re going for, which is a total abortion ban in the state of Iowa,” said Iowa House Minority Leader Rep. Jennifer Konfrst (D-Windsor Heights).
“We’re going to hear a lot between now and November about how that’s not what’s going to happen,” she continued. “But we have proof and we’ve seen it. And so this concern is real in the Iowa legislature. We’ve heard what they’ve proposed. We’ve heard what they voted against.”
Konfrst listed how Iowa Republicans voted against amendments that would have expanded maternal care, protected access to contraception, the rights of survivors of rape and incest, and the right to treat ectopic pregnancies, which cannot be delivered and put people’s lives at risk.
And many of the threats overlap. Mainly, the threat this poses to anyone who needs reproductive care, the need to support organizations doing the work, and the need to remove as many risks as possible.
Laura Hessburg of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence said an unwanted pregnancy could make it harder for victims to leave their abusers. Especially if their abuser keeps them from seeking any medical care.
She also talked about the form of abuse where the abuser intentionally gets their partner pregnant as a way of further controlling them and tying them together even if the survivor manages to escape.
“Forcing individuals to remain pregnant, denying them access to care threatens their health for sure. It threatens their freedom and places the victim close to violence in the near future,” Hessburg said. “Without access to abortion care, many victims of violence return to relationships that they would choose to leave and they carry pregnancies to term. Risking themselves and the children that come.”
Taking away abortion access risks people’s abilities to take care of themselves and self-determination is one of the only ways to avoid violence, she said.
Kelsey Machado, a Planned Parenthood storyteller who was at the roundtable, shared how her first pregnancy occurred while she was with a controlling, abusive partner. She said a baby would have trapped her there.
“My abortion was out of safety; for fear of what my life might be like today if I had gone through with that pregnancy,” she said. “Today my life is a lot different. I’m in an incredibly healthy, happy marriage with a young baby. And I see that my life is all thanks to my abortion and to ensure my safety from the relationship at that time.”
Iowa Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) said restricting abortion will simply exacerbate health-care problems Iowans are already facing.
“Our maternal mortality rate has more than doubled since Republicans took control of the Legislature when they gutted our highly successful family planning program,” she said. “We’ve seen women losing access to family planning care since Medicaid was privatized and the Governor and Republican lawmakers have refused to increase the amount of money they reimburse local hospitals for labor and delivery services.”
Iowa has also experienced the closures of maternity wards, and this year Republicans refused to extend post-partum coverage to the recommended 12 months.
Petersen said this is dangerous because it’s potentially putting women’s and others’ lives into the hands of people who have already written off reproductive health by closing those wards. She said a lot of people are worried about that.
“Hospitals are basically being incentivized to get rid of women’s health care,” Petersen said. “And we have a great number of women who are concerned about what will happen if they find themselves in a hospital where they may need abortion care service for something like an ectopic pregnancy. Will they then have to go to a hospital board or a board that already made the decision to get rid of women’s care? Will they be open to saving that woman’s life?”
Leah Vanden Bosh of the Iowa Abortion Access Fund said they’re worried about the real threat of criminalizing abortion in Iowa.
“We need to start creating a community for everyone,” she said. “We need to fund these community efforts rather than the prison industrial complex. We need to amplify the reproductive justice movement. We need to divest from everything that criminalizes reproductive autonomy and invest in affirming care, and we need to destigmatize abortion.”
Vanden Bosh said the Iowa Abortion Access Fund doesn’t intend to stop providing people with care. She said one way to eliminate the threat is to fund mental health services and universal health care and to divert money away from the police and systems that will be responsible for arresting people exercising their rights.
“That’s really my main concern as an Iowan, as someone who may need another abortion or someone who plans to help provide abortion. What are we going to do to protect patients, caretakers, providers, and activists?” Vanden Bosh said.
Luana Nelson-Brown of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change and executive director of the Homicide Coalition said a lot of areas overlap with what people of color are concerned about. Maternal mortality and increased incarceration, she said, are their primary concerns at the moment.
In Iowa, Black women are far more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than any other demographic.
“This is something that’s not going to get better. It’s just going to get worse,” Nelson-Brown said. “So we’re going to look at the elimination of women of color in our state and across the country.”
She also pointed out how criminalization will lead to higher mass incarceration rates, which is a problem Iowa already has.
“What this sounds a lot like to us, and to me personally as a black woman, is a return to women being property,” she said. “That’s what this is, and that feels all too familiar. Knowing my history and knowing my ancestral history, I know what this is.”
Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa, said this fight isn’t a new one for LGBTQ people. In many instances, they’re on the front lines of the fight for their reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and other rights.
Crow said cisgender women are obviously the majority of people in the position of needing abortion care, but having a smaller population doesn’t mean LGBTQ people need it any less. That’s especially true when LGBTQ people are susceptible to violence and accidents.
“It’s often them and their bodies who are impacted in a disproportionate way not just because of the gender role stuff that I’ve been discussing,” Crow said.
“All of those things can stack up,” Crow said. “And again, for LGBTQ people with disabilities, LGBTQ people of color, it just starts to get worse and worse and worse.”
Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said her organization was there to uphold the idea that religion not be used to harm people by discriminating against them or taking their rights away.
“We would advocate that people of faith use their voices, use their voices loudly so that they can give light to that, that people they do believe in access to safe and legal abortion and that religion not being misused in this manner to take away people’s rights.”
Any laws or rulings that ban abortion actually violate religious freedom, Ryan argued.
Some religions are in favor of abortion rights. The Jewish faith teaches that a fetus isn’t a person until birth and that a woman’s life and rights come first. Buddhist, Unitarian, and some Christian faiths also believe in a right to abortion.
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