February 03, 2023

Rep. Axne fights to protect rights for women in Iowa

“This ruling is not what America wants,” said Iowa Third District Democratic Representative Cindy Axne of the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Axne held a women’s choice round table discussion Wednesday at a Planned Parenthood location in Des Moines. The event was packed with attendees wanting to be a part of the discussion.

“Some of the most compelling conversations were really with story tellers,” Axne said. She spoke of one woman in particular who had an abortion at 15 after feeling at risk. She is now a wife and mother. “She chose a safe route for her future,” Axne said. “She has her life. Her life is doing what she wants to be doing.”

Moving forward, Axne said the plan is two-fold. The first is to do everything possible to protect this right for women in Iowa. “The governor and legislature are looking for a full ban,” she said. “We have to keep anything from expanding in Iowa. They know Iowans don’t want this.”

Abortion in Iowa

In 2018, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill that banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected - 6 weeks. At the time, it was the strictest abortion ban bill signed in the country. However, despite Reynolds’ efforts, in 2019, a state judge ruled that the law violated the Iowa Constitution and could not be enforced.

Also four years ago, a lower court overruled the 72-hour abortion waiting period law. This court shared the same reasoning - it was a violation of the Iowa Constitution.

In 2020, the general assembly added a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortion to pending legislation limiting courts’ ability to withdraw life-sustaining procedures. Despite its approval, it never took affect due to legal challenges.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa launched a legal challenge against the 24-hour ban, and in 2021, a Johnson County District Court judge permanently blocked the 24-hour abortion waiting period law. As of last year, the only abortion restrictions in the state were after 20 weeks.

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court abolished the constitutional right to abortion in the state - reinstating the 24-hour window that went into effect Friday; however, they never set a standard for what the state’s abortion law should be.

Reynolds approved the decision. “The Iowa Supreme Court reversed its earlier 2018 decision, which made Iowa the most abortion-friendly state in the country,” she wrote in a statement. Since the 2018 decision, Reynolds has appointed four of the court’s seven justices.

Now that the argument of constitutionality is out the window, Reynolds is looking to push forward. In light of the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Reynolds has asked the courts to revisit the case from 2018 regarding a 72-hour ban, and she has asked courts to lift the injunction on the abortion ban after 6 weeks, known as the “fetal heartbeat law.”

The Iowa Supreme Court denied Reynolds’ request to rehear Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds (PPH II)- the case that abolished the 72-hour waiting period. In the opinion, Justice Edward Mansfield said, “Although we overrule PPH II, and thus reject the proposition that there is a fundamental right to an abortion in Iowa’s Constitution subjecting abortion regulation to strict scrutiny, we do not at this time decide what constitutional standard should replace it.”

Planned Parenthood North Central States and the ACLU of Iowa issued a statement in favor of the court’s denial to rehear the case. “We are pleased that the court has declined the governor’s radical proposal to immediately revisit its decision and eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Iowa. Nearly one in four American women have an abortion at some point in their lives, for a variety of deeply personal reasons. The majority of Iowans support their right to do so, and we will continue to fight to preserve it going forward.”

Axne said the Senate doesn’t have enough support to codify Roe so the issue needs to be fought at the state level. “Short term we’ve got to keep anything from expanding in Iowa,” she said. “We need people pushing against this if a special session is called. She would rather do this by using other resources like the courts to make these changes.”

The governor has said a special legislative session isn’t necessary. After both laws have been ruled on, she said she will reassess.

“This is an attack on women’s right, civil liberties and democracy,” Axne said. “It takes away our rights. We deserve better than that.”

Federal abortion fight

Democratic legislators have been working to codify Roe since before the Supreme Court’s overruling last month. The court’s overturning has been said to give the power back to the states, but in reality - it gives the power to anyone with the ability to create legislature, including Congress.

Axne cosponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, brought before the House in June 2021.

“I voted for a reproductive bill that would literally protect women,” Axne said. “It would help codify a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. It makes sure the government can’t limit things like abortions.”

“This isn’t just a women’s issue. This is a men’s issue, a family issue. This is a community issue.”

—  Cindy Axne

The bill states “Specifically, governments may not limit a provider’s ability to prescribe certain drugs, offer abortion services via telemedicine or immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient’s health. Furthermore, governments may not require a provider to perform unnecessary medical procedures, provide medically inaccurate information, comply with credentialing or other conditions that do not apply to providers whose services are medically comparable to abortions, or carry out all services connected to an abortion.”

Axne said the proposed bill does what it’s supposed to do - protects women’s health.

The bill passed the House in September 2021 by a margin of seven votes, but has been sitting in the Senate for nearly a year.

Under pressure by Democratic lawmakers, President Joe Biden announced his support for changing Senate rules to allow the measure to pass by simple majority, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster.

Axne is passionate about retaining Democratic control in Congress, and encourages people to vote in November. “People need to vote,” she said. “I’ve got to win. I’m one of five Democrats in a Republican-leaning area. We need to break the filibuster.”

Young women are specifically impacted by this legislature, but younger generations are less likely to turn out to the polls. “This is the biggest impact on young people,” Axne said. “I know how women struggle. They struggle with lower wages, child care costs, jobs worthy of the dignity they bring there. The state and SCOTUS are saying ‘we want you to have an unintended pregnancy on top of that.’”

But Axne is firm in her belief this isn’t just a women’s battle. “This is a men’s issue, a family issue. This is a community issue,” she said.

Adoption isn’t a solution Axne is interested in hearing. “Most people aren’t adopting these kids,” she said. “Thousands of children are waiting for adoption. The excuses are poor.”

Sunday, Biden said he is looking to see if he has the authority to declare a public health emergency regarding abortion access, and is weighing what the impact would be. This came after his executive order Friday adding ease of access options for women seeking abortions.

In her statement responding to Biden’s order, she said, “While I’m pleased to see President Biden taking action to protect access to abortion and other reproductive health services, we know that this is just one of the many steps that we must take to protect a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.”

Axne said this issue isn’t just about women’s reproductive rights. In his concurring opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said, “For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

These three cases represent the right to contraceptives, privacy and same-sex marriage. “Now are we going to tell Americans they can’t use contraceptives?” Axne asked. “This is not a court looking out for the best interests of the people, and it has started with women’s freedom.”

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.