The Roe V. Wade decision and where we go now

For 50 years abortion was a legal choice for American women. Then last week the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ruled 5 to 4 that choice is no longer a constitutional right, and handed off control of the issue to each individual state.

For Iowa’s part, the Iowa Supreme Court four years ago declared abortion choice to be guaranteed by the state’s constitution. But on June 17, just a week before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, the state’s highest court also reversed the 2018 Iowa decision and wiped out the guarantee. 

So now neither the United States nor the state of Iowa affords a woman the legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

The majority rulings of both courts were made by justices appointed by Republican chief executives.

It is now up to the people of Iowa to decide how to deal with the new state of affairs. They can restore the power of abortion choice to Iowa women through their power of election choice, by electing Legislators and a Governor who will protect a right to abortion. 

There’s no question that abortion will be an issue this Nov. 8 in the general election. But how heavily voters will weigh it in the voting booth is unknown.

Public opinion polls show most Americans in most instances favor the right of choice on abortion. The same is true in Iowa, as statewide polling indicates. And the political parties have made it pretty clear on which side they stand when it comes to abortion.

The Republican-dominated Iowa Legislature has voted several times in recent years to restrict abortion rights, with full approval from the Governor, only to have those acts struck down as unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court. Now that court, with six of its seven members having received appointment from Republican governors, has erased that constitutional protection. 

There can be little doubt that the Legislature, if left in Republican control after November, will once again approve anti-abortion legislation, and that Governor Reynolds, if she wins reelection, will sign it. 

At the national level, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley owns last week’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. With his active participation the U.S. Senate made sure of an anti-choice court.

In February 2016, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, then-Democratic President Barack Obama nominated Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy. The Senate at that time was controlled by Republicans. 

Grassley, then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in concert with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to give Garland even a committee hearing, claiming that any Supreme Court vacancy occurring in the final year of a presidential term should remain vacant until the voters chose a new President in the November election.

Republican Donald Trump was elected in November, and after his inauguration he nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s vacancy, whom Grassley promptly granted a hearing and endorsed for the court. 

During the remainder of his term Trump went on to nominate both Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancies created on the Supreme Court by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Justice Ginsburg died in September 2020, less than two months before the presidential election in November of that year. President Trump promptly nominated Judge Barrett to fill that vacancy. Rather than wait until after the November election to fill the position, as they had done back in February 2016 regarding Obama’s nomination of Garland, Grassley and McConnell held a Judiciary Committee hearing on Barrett’s nomination. The committee reported her nomination favorably to the full Senate, and she was confirmed and took her Supreme Court seat on October 27, just days before the November election in which Democrat Joe Biden was elected.

Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst, like Grassley a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined her party’s leadership in how they dealt with the court nominations.

The way Grassley handled the two nominations was shabby at best. The five Justices who made up the majority on last week’s opinion that overruled Roe v. Wade were Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Had Grassley not acted as he did in Gorsuch’s and/or Garrett’s confirmation to the court, the recent abortion decision would doubtless have been different. 

Garland, now attorney general in the Biden Administration, had made his pro-choice beliefs well known, and Barrett would not be sitting on the court today had Grassley waited to consider Justice Ginsburg’s successor until Biden as new president were sworn in. Without Gorsuch and Barrett on the court, the vote on whether to overrule Roe v. Wade would have been 3 to 6 in favor of retaining it, rather than 5 to 4 to overturn it.

Grassley is on the ballot once again this November. He faces former three-star Navy Admiral Michael Franken, Democrat from Sioux City, who has made a point of his pro-choice views on abortion. The contrast is clear.

But where does the right of abortion rank in voters’ minds? Democrats’ task will be to remind Iowans that young women today no longer have the protection of choice they and their predecessors have had for 50 years. How that fact stacks up among other issues like inflation among voters, particularly independents, will be determined in November.

Most people favor abortion choice. How much they favor it is as yet unknown.

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