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Iowa’s special session places abortion at forefront in 2024 GOP primary

<i>Joe Raedle/Getty Images</i><br/>Iowa’s legislature will kick off a special session aimed at banning abortion in most cases after about six weeks of pregnancy
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Iowa’s legislature will kick off a special session aimed at banning abortion in most cases after about six weeks of pregnancy

By Eric Bradner, CNN

(CNN) — Iowa’s legislature will kick off a special session Tuesday aimed at banning abortion in most cases after about six weeks of pregnancy, elevating the issue in a state blanketed by 2024 presidential contenders who have sought to avoid the kinds of specifics the Republican-led state House and Senate are poised to consider.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds called for the special session as GOP officials there seek to implement rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade reversal that had existed, but been stymied by courts in the Hawkeye State, for five years.

The special session could force the GOP’s field of 2024 presidential candidates who are courting voters in the state whose caucuses kick off the nominating process to address in specific terms their positions on whether and when abortion should be prohibited.

Some GOP candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence – who has placed his advocacy for nationwide abortion restrictions at the forefront of his presidential run – could see Iowa’s special session as an opening to draw a contrast with rivals in a state where evangelical voters will be key to the outcome of the party’s caucuses.

“We must not rest and we must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in this country,” Pence said last month at the Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington, DC. “Every Republican candidate for president should support a ban on abortion before 15 weeks as a minimum nationwide standard.”

But others, while touting their own pro-life bona fides, have been less committal when asked about a federal role in restricting abortion rights.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law in his state in April – a move he made with little fanfare, announcing it had been signed with a late-night news release. He has defended that measure. However, DeSantis has been less clear about where he stands on a national abortion ban.

So have other Republican 2024 contenders.

Former President Donald Trump suggested in May that the Florida measure signed by DeSantis was “too harsh.”

And in a CNN town hall, Trump said he recognized the splits within the GOP over whether there should be a federal ban, and how far into a pregnancy such a ban should take effect.

“We now have a great negotiating ability, and I think we’re going to be able to get something done,” Trump said.

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, was similarly vague in a CNN town hall. She said she would seek a consensus that could clear the House and the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

She said she believes such a consensus measure would include banning late-term abortions, encouraging adoptions, making contraceptives more widely available and making clear that women who have abortions would not be jailed.

“Can’t we start there? Because what the politicos and what the media have done is they’ve made you demonize the situation when it’s so personal that we have to humanize the situation,” Haley said. “Our goal should always be, how do we save as many babies as we can, and support as many mothers as we do it.”

Vivek Ramaswamy was the first GOP 2024 contender to seek to capitalize on the special session, announcing a Tuesday morning press conference on the steps of Iowa’s Capitol building.

Other GOP contenders could also weigh in later this week at a summit Friday hosted by the conservative FAMiLY Leader.

What Iowa lawmakers are considering

Iowa has been at the forefront of a conservative push for restrictive abortion measures. In 2018, the state enacted a so-called “heartbeat bill,” banning abortions after six weeks – a point at which many women don’t yet know they are pregnant.

That 2018 law was blocked by a state court in 2018 and remains blocked after the Iowa Supreme Court reached a 3-3 split decision about the measure last month.

Republican lawmakers, with Reynolds’ backing, have introduced a similar measure that would ban abortions after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo or fetus.

The bill includes exceptions for miscarriages, when the life of the mother is threatened and fetal abnormalities that would result in the infant’s death. It also includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rapes reported within 45 days and incest reported within 140 days.

The legislature’s consideration of the proposal is set to start with a 90-minute House committee hearing Tuesday morning. A Senate committee hearing is scheduled to start at the same time the House panel’s meeting is slated to end. Both chambers could move to vote quickly, and Democrats have no power to stop the anti-abortion measure.

Abortion rights advocates have won key votes

Though the political winds could shift by November 2024, the outcomes of midterm races and other elections in recent months suggest that voters are broadly supportive of abortion rights. The issue has galvanized Democrats and tilted moderates in their direction.

Earlier this year, the Democratic-backed candidate won the swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court in an expensive, high-profile race that focused almost solely on how the court would rule in the future on the state’s 1849 abortion ban.

And 11 months ago, in one of the first signs after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade that the battle over abortion rights would shift the political landscape ahead of the midterm elections, voters in Kansas rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared that the state does not guarantee abortion rights. Months later, Kansas – a state won by Republican presidential candidates in every election since 1964 – voted to reelect its Democratic governor, Laura Kelly.

Last fall, voters in California, Michigan and Vermont voted to enshrine abortion rights in their states’ constitutions. The issue was pivotal in Michigan, where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made abortion her central focus against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon.

Voters in deep-red Kentucky rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have outlawed abortion, and in Montana, voters rejected a measure that would have imposed criminal penalties on health care providers who do not act to preserve the life of infants born during the course of an abortion.

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