Following US Supreme Court decisions regarding gun control measures, the environment, and the right to abortion, a lot of people are seeking answers and action—and they’re getting frustrated when they don’t see enough.
Rep. Cindy Axne held a roundtable event Wednesday afternoon in downtown Des Moines at the Planned Parenthood offices and gathered abortion advocates to discuss what they think is most important to keep in mind now that the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
“This isn’t just a slippery slope, this is a hill that we are flying down headfirst and it started with the attack on women in this country,” Axne said in her introduction.
The advocates talked about the widespread effects a ban on abortion will have, and a discussion broke out about what to do other than vote for pro-choice candidates in November.
First is paying attention to what community groups and local leaders are doing.
“The general public is just no longer connected with what their government is doing at the state level and then at the national level,” said Bailey Caskey, a Planned Parenthood employee.
“We have more on-the-ground organizations that are doing that work every day. Like I get to see them because they’re online and that’s how they reach everybody,” she continued. “And you look at the work they’re doing because, realistically, that’s easier to get connected to in your own community to get involved in what you want to do.”
Iowa House Minority Leader Rep. Jennifer Konfrst said Democratic legislators need help spreading the word about the work they’ve done to push back against anti-abortion Republicans because it’s not breaking through.
“I would argue that there’s one party that’s trying to decimate abortion rights and one that’s trying to save them,” she said. “The work that you want to see is happening. I just don’t know how to tell you.”
Iowa Republicans will almost certainly push for a full ban on abortion now that it’s totally up to the states, and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature don’t have the numbers to stop them.
Konfrst said Republicans will try to downplay their plans, and people can’t let that happen.
“Last year the majority in the Iowa House rejected every amendment that we put forward that would have protected the life of the mother, that would have addressed survivors of rape and incest, would have addressed birth control, contraception, ectopic pregnancy, things like that. They voted them all down on party lines,” she said. “So we know what they’re going for, which is a total abortion ban in the state of Iowa.”
Luana Nelson-Brown of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change and executive director of the Homicide Coalition, said it might also help if grassroots organizations could help write legislation.
“I think that disconnect maybe comes there so beyond just amplifying their work, also connecting with them and sitting and writing together would definitely have to help,” she said.
Axne said there aren’t many immediate options when it comes to Congress right now.
“I believe that we should abolish the filibuster, that we need to codify this and that’s what I’m going to be pushing for in Congress,” she said, describing it as the fastest way to have concrete action at the federal level.
People also need to talk to the senators who are holding up the Women’s Reproductive Health Protection Act, which passed the House in September 2021. The bill passed 218-211, with Axne the only Iowan voting for it.
“We could codify Roe v Wade, essentially,” Axne said. “We could codify the opportunities for women and not make it so susceptible to other people’s whims, and to the court’s whims, and to the states.”
“The Democratic women, I can tell you, are very focused because we have too many women who have been out there, they knew this time was coming, and we’ve been prepared,” she continued. “But we don’t have the support we need in the Senate to move an agenda forward right now. The only way we can do that is to remove the filibuster and hopefully get the votes that we need.”
That, as President Joe Biden noted earlier this week, would require Democrats to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in order to have the votes to remove the filibuster for this issue (since two current Democratic senators—and every Republican—currently oppose it). One of those seats could come from Iowa if Mike Franken ousts Sen. Chuck Grassley.
The House will also vote on two abortion-related bills next week; one to codify Roe and one to ensure women can cross state lines to obtain abortions.
The other option really is to elect more pro-choice members to Congress to help push the law over the line for Biden to sign.
Friday, Biden announced an executive order to protect reproductive health care. It includes new guidance to protect patients’ privacy both with medical providers and when patients seek information about abortion care. It would restrict what information law enforcement can obtain regarding reproductive care.
The order will also expand access to FDA-approved medication for abortions and contraception, including emergency contraception and IUDs.
Everything else probably has to be on the local, grassroots level, especially when it comes to raising awareness about what Democrats and others are trying to accomplish.
“This [overturning Roe] is going to limit opportunity for women all across our state and their families,” Axne said “Now, we do need a strategy to address this issue. And yes, we are working actively on figuring out how we can get this done. I think our best way is to get rid of the filibuster so that this can be codified. I think it’s our fastest and probably the only way we’re going to get this done at a federal level.”
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