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Iowa's GOP governor calls a special session to push abortion restrictions

Gov. Kim Reynolds acted weeks after the state Supreme Court issued a decision on abortion that was a loss for anti-abortion advocates.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks in Sioux Center, Iowa on May 13, 2023.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has called for the Legislature to reconvene for a special session Tuesday.Rebecca S. Gratz / The Washington Post via Getty Im

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called Wednesday for a special legislative session that she said would be dedicated exclusively to enacting “pro-life legislation.”

Reynolds, a Republican, made the announcement weeks after the state Supreme Court issued a split decision on a six-week abortion ban she had proposed in 2018. The ruling allowed abortion to remain legal until about the 20th week of pregnancy.

Reynolds said Wednesday that the session will convene Tuesday, and she suggested that she and the GOP-controlled Legislature were likely to codify harsher abortion restrictions.

“Iowans have elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of the unborn and, in doing so, they have voted strongly in support of pro-life principles and against the arbitrary destruction of innocent, defenseless lives,” she said in a statement.

Referring to the state Supreme Court’s split decision, Reynolds added that “this lack of action disregards the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers who will not rest until the unborn are protected by law.”

“I believe the pro-life movement is the most important human rights cause of our time,” she said.

How the Legislature proceeds is likely to have broader ramifications in national politics. Because Iowa will be the first state to hold Republican caucuses for the 2024 presidential race, GOP candidates already barnstorming the state are certain to be asked for their views on newly proposed restrictions.

Depending on what the Legislature comes up with, it could prove challenging for Republicans, who have often struggled to talk to voters about abortion rights in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade.

The state Supreme Court’s 3-3 ruling last month meant the court failed to reach a majority in deciding whether to overturn a lower court decision blocking Reynolds’ effort to reinstate a 2018 six-week abortion ban.

That so-called heartbeat bill banned abortions in the state at the sixth week of pregnancy or when, in some cases, a fetal pulse can first be heard via ultrasound. 

While numerous states have enacted six-week bans in the year since the Dobbs decision, the 2018 Iowa law was the most restrictive in the U.S. at the time.