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Iowa abortion rights supporters protest the end of Roe while opponents work to ban abortion

Hundreds of protesters walk up Grand Ave. toward the governor's residence in Des Moines Friday evening to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Michael Leland
Hundreds of protesters walk up Grand Ave. toward the governor's residence in Des Moines Friday evening to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Hundreds of people marched in Des Moines Friday night to protest the overturn of the Roe v. Wade decision and the end of nationwide abortion rights.

They chanted, “the people must decide our fate—not the church and not the state,” and, “my body, my choice.”

The group stopped in front of the governor’s mansion and listened to Jalesha Johnson. Reading a statement from Luana Nelson-Brown, she said it is a sad day and human rights are no longer assured for anyone.

“Stand up! Fight back! Make your voices heard,” Johnson said. “Now is the time for action.”

Two recent supreme court rulings—one at the federal level and one in Iowa—have opened the door to more abortion restrictions in the state. Abortion is still legal in Iowa, but it’s not clear how long that’ll last.

Abortion opponents are urging state lawmakers to ban abortion, and abortion rights supporters are protesting and promising to fight back.

Wendy Uribe was also at the Des Moines protest. She said the court decision was shocking and felt like a kick in the gut.

“I grew up undocumented, and so I know for me, health care and access to health care has been a really big issue throughout my whole life growing up,” Uribe said. “And so just to see it slashed even more, as a marginalized person, it’s just not okay. And so I have to show out in the way that I can.”

Kathleen Murrin of Des Moines said she was discouraged, heartbroken and furious that women’s rights are being trampled on.

“I had an ectopic pregnancy as my first pregnancy. That would be considered an abortion today. That just makes no sense to me,” Murrin said. “And I would not have a choice in that. It’s my health care, my body. My doctor and I are the ones that did make that decision and should still be able to make that decision.”

There were protests against the overturn of Roe v. Wade in several Iowa cities Friday.

Lexi McKee-Hemenway spoke at a protest in Sioux City. She leads an abortion rights group in South Dakota, where abortion is now banned. McKee-Hemenway says she’s ready to fight to make sure women can access abortions.

“Because at the end of the day it’s going to be about getting people across state lines to receive the necessary accessible health care because abortion is health care,” she said.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature is expected to further restrict abortion, but the specifics still aren’t clear.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said the overturn of Roe v. Wade was one of the Supreme Court’s “greatest moments.” She hasn’t said how she wants to restrict abortion or if she plans to call a special session to ban abortion this summer.

Last month, Reynolds was asked if she supports any exceptions to abortion bans.

“Somebody needs to stand up for the unborn,” Reynolds replied. “And I’m proud of my record in doing just that and will continue to do everything I can to protect those that cannot protect themselves.”

In 2018, Reynolds signed a bill into law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, but it never took effect.

Maggie DeWitte has been an anti-abortion activist in Iowa for over 20 years. She says the two court rulings put Iowa in a position to move toward banning abortion.

“My initial reaction was a lot of tears, a lot of emotion, a little shock, and mostly just gratitude and thankfulness that we finally got this ruling,” she said.

DeWitte is the executive director of Pulse Life Advocates, which was formed in 1972, shortly before abortion rights became constitutionally protected.

“Our goal was then and will continue to be to eliminate abortion in our state,” DeWitte said. “And so we want to push forward with everything that we can do to protect all human life in the womb.”

DeWitte says she’ll also keep pushing for a constitutional amendment that would say the Iowa Constitution doesn’t protect abortion rights. On Friday, she said she didn’t know of any anti-abortion events planned in Iowa in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In the meantime, Iowa Abortion Access Fund board member April Clark said groups are still working together across states to help people travel for abortions.

“We’ve been preparing for this eventuality unfortunately for a long time,” Clark said. “And that’s why to reach out and talk to each other and figure out how to best get care for people no matter where that is and really just trying to figure out how to get them funded and how to get them there.”

Clark said she is worried about people who need an abortion because it’s already been difficult for them to make it to clinics and to find appointments.

Abortion is still legal in Iowa, and the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate plans to expand services in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. Abortion is also legal in Illinois, but abortions have stopped in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Missouri.

IPR's Kendall Crawford contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.