Former Vice President Pence visits Iowa at Family Leadership Summit, celebrates limiting access to abortion

Lobbyists and legislators celebrated that Iowa has begun the process of amending its constitution to say abortion is not a protected right, among other anti-abortion efforts.


Jerod Ringwald

Former Vice President Mike Pence addresses the crowd during The Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines on Friday, July 16, 2021.

Natalie Dunlap, News Editor

DES MOINES — The 2021 Iowa legislative session was the best The FAMiLY Leader had ever seen, said the lobbyist group’s Vice President and Chief Counsel Chuck Hurley, partially because they saw their biggest priority accomplished: beginning the process of making an amendment to the state constitution that declares abortion is not a protected right.

Hurley addressed a crowd of several hundred on Friday at the 10th annual FAMiLY Leadership Summit in Des Moines. The event brought together religious leaders and Republican politicians who promoted inserting Christianity and “Christ-like-leadership” into politics, as well as condemning the cultural changes that go against their socially conservative beliefs.

National names took the stage, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Some speakers are being eyed as potential GOP candidates for 2024. Craig DeRuche, President and CEO at the Family Policy Alliances introduced Pompeo by joking former President Barack Obama and Pompeo both were the editor of the Harvard Law Review, and that Pompeo might be interested in another job Obama held.

Among other common sentiments — such as banning critical race theory or any curriculum saying the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist, showing support for police officers, and discussing COVID-19 mitigations as a restriction on freedom — a majority of the speakers took swings at Planned Parenthood and emphasized a need to reduce abortion access.

“This is why we fight, thousands of other babies lives depend on you and your efforts, your contributions, but most of all your prayers,” said Hurley, while holding a baby on stage and discussing an anti-abortion coalition The FAMiLY Leader is part of. “And then sharing with your friends why the ‘Protect Life Amendment’ is needed.”

Attendants received a card with a photo of a baby on it that explained the process of making an amendment to the state constitution stating abortion is not protected.

“The power of informed patriotic Americans bringing their faith boldly into the public square, and seeking to influence government at all levels — it cannot be overestimated,” Reynolds said. “Over the years it has helped sustain and encourage me and legislators, over and over again, which is a big reason why my administration has become one of the most pro-life in the country.”

Reynolds laid out the ways her administration has tried to restrict abortion, some of which have been struck down in court.

In May 2018, Reynolds signed a bill into law outlawing abortions when a fetal heartbeat was detectable. A state judge ruled this was unconstitutional in January 2019.

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In June of 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court declared the Iowa Constitution grants a right to abortion in a case that struck down a 72-hour wait period before receiving an abortion. A similar 24-hour wait period law was also recently blocked in an Iowa District Court.

However, Reynolds and others trying to limit abortion access have had a few recent wins. In June an Iowa Supreme Court case ruled the state can prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving funds for sex education programs.

This May, a joint resolution proposed an amendment to the state constitution that declares Iowa doesn’t recognize, grant, or secure a right to an abortion, to combat the 2018 Supreme Court decision.

“This amendment is written so clearly that even living constitutionalists wouldn’t be able to twist it … If all goes as planned, it’ll be put before Iowa voters in 2024,” Reynolds said.

Though it has already passed once, amendments to the state constitution “must be agreed to by two successive General Assemblies and ratified by a majority of the electors” before going into effect, according to Iowa law.

Noem, who was invited to the summit by her “dear friend” Reynolds, discussed how she has used her gubernatorial office in South Dakota to limit abortion.

“I believe I’m still the only governor in the country that has a person on staff whose job description is to be an unborn child advocate,” Noem said. “He wakes up every single day looking for ways in statute and in law to defend life and make sure that it’s going to be protected.”

When Pence served as governor of Indiana, he signed every anti-abortion bill passed by the Indiana Legislature.

“For the very first day of our administration we reinstated the Mexico City policy to make sure that abortions would not be funded or promoted with tax dollars around the world,” Pence told the crowd. “We cut funding in the United Nations Population Fund, and I had the privilege of being the first Vice President in history to address the national March for Life on the National Mall in Washington DC with my wife Karen and my son. I probably had no higher honor when I was serving as President of the Senate than the day I cast the tie-breaking vote to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.”

Despite efforts from the Republican-controlled state house and the lobbyist who promote an anti-abortion agenda through events like Friday’s summit, numbers from the Iowa Department of Public Health obtained by “The Des Moines Register” show Iowa’s abortion rate went up 42 percent between 2018 and 2020.