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NEWS 6.28.22: Fortenberry Sentenced, Gov. Reynolds Pursues Court Action On Abortion, DeJear Visits Sioux City, and More

Democratic Candidate for Governor Deidre DeJear Visits Sioux City, IA
Siouxland Public Media/Sheila Brummer
Democratic Candidate for Governor Deidre DeJear Visits Sioux City, IA

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was sentenced to two years of probation, a $25,000 fine and community service for lying to federal authorities about $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

Tuesday’s sentence came as voters in his district were deciding on his replacement in a special election. The 61-year-old resigned in March shortly after a California jury found him guilty of lying to FBI agents about the donations from a Nigerian billionaire. He says the ordeal has been traumatic, and he plans to appeal.

Back in his GOP-leaning district, Republican state Sen. Mike Flood is running against Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks in a special election Tuesday to replace Fortenberry.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that she'll seek to end most abortions in the state by turning to the courts. She'll ask them to relax the legal standard used to evaluate restrictions and to reverse a decision that halted a ban as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That law bans abortions once cardiac activity can be detected. A state court judge found the 2018 law unconstitutional under previous Iowa Supreme Court rulings. However, the high court on June 17 reversed previous precedent which would allow the law to be considered under a lower legal threshold.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls called the move quote an incredibly dangerous action that threatens the health, safety, and future of Iowa women.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says he will not participate in the governor’s legal actions on abortion due to ethical reasons. Miller says he made many clear public statements in support of Roe v. Wade and the U.S. Supreme Court rulings set in previous cases.

Democratic Candidate for Governor of Iowa Deidre DeJear says Governor Reynolds needs to focus on what’s best for Iowans.

“I know there’s something that we can do about it. Because we have done it before under both Republican and Democratic leadership.”

DeJear spoke to a group of a few dozen people at a Siouxland Progressive Women luncheon. She focused on Iowa’s falling ranking in education. The state used to be top in the nation.

“With this governor, we are 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th on the list.”

DeJear says the government needs to listen to teachers and educators once again and provide children access to early education and child care.

The business owner from Des Moines and former candidate for Iowa’s Secretary of State also responded to the governor’s move of shortening the time people can receive unemployment.

 “It’s a marketing ploy, we need to increase opportunity for people in the state.”

DeJear says the focus should go toward higher-paying wages. She also wants to push for more mental health help in the state.

DeJear believes the key to winning the election rides the mobilization of voters with a focus on Independents, younger voters, and people of color.

Democratic Candidate for Governor Deidre DeJear Visits Sioux City

Governor Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg plan to visit Siouxland tomorrow. They will be in Estherville in the afternoon at moveero Inc. The company makes off-highway wheels for the industries of agriculture, construction, and mining.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced Monday that $16.5 million in grant money will be divided among multiple tourism and recreational projects, including the “Field of Dreams” television series.

Universal Television is one of four organizations to receive the first batch of Destination Iowa funding awarded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Specifically, $6 million will fund construction and equipment for the “Field of Dreams” TV show. Universal Television will not use the baseball stadium from the “Field of Dreams” movie in Dyersville, Iowa. Instead, the TV series will construct a new ballpark and farmhouse in Polk City.

Filming is expected to begin this year according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Destination Iowa is a $100 million program that cities, counties, nonprofits, and organizations can apply for grants to fund transformational projects that help grow local economies.

As reported on Monday, the Siouxland Regional Trail System that links several communities received $7 million in funding.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has appointed the lead prosecutor in the Senate impeachment trial against former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to fill the remainder of Ravnsborg’s term. Noem’s appointment of Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo as attorney general was effective Tuesday.

Noem pushed for Ravnsborg's impeachment after he refused to step down following the 2020 crash in which he struck and killed a man along a rural highway.

Vargo will serve as attorney general through Jan. 6, 2023. Ravnsborg has blamed Noem for his impeachment, which came after he last year filed a pair of ethics complaints against the governor.

Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack visited eastern Iowa Tuesday for an announcement about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Vilsack released details on funding for a new program to boost economic growth and lower carbon footprints while increasing the use of renewable agriculture materials.

The plan will spur the increased development of innovative bio-based products.

The Sioux City Council unanimously voted Monday to adopt an ordinance that will require after-hours clubs within city limits to be licensed. For more information from the Sioux City Journal click here.

News release from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds:

Gov. Reynolds and legislative leaders announce legal action to protect life

DES MOINES -- Today, Gov. Reynolds and legislative leaders announced two legal actions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs:

Gov. Reynolds will urge the Iowa Supreme Court to rehear Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds (known as PPH IV), in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs.  
Gov. Reynolds will request that the Iowa courts lift the injunction against enforcement of Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law.

While this litigation moves forward to protect the unborn, Iowa’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks is still in effect. And, through actions of the legislature and Gov. Reynolds, Iowa continues to provide support for mothers and their children. Through the new MOMS legislation (More Options for Maternal Support SF2354), a statewide program to promote healthy pregnancies and childbirth, the State will provide needed supports, like parenting education, nutritional services, and material items such as diapers and car seats, for women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy.

And through the implementation of Family First, the State is also equipping at-risk families with the tools they need to be successful and allowing safe options for a path to adoption through expanded Safe Haven laws. Gov. Reynolds has also supported expanded contraception and family planning services through the State’s Title X program, better ensuring that low-income Iowans have access to maternal care.

“Now is the time for us to stand up and continue the fight to protect the unborn,” said. Gov. Reynolds. “The Supreme Court’s historic decision reaffirms that states have the right to protect the innocent and defenseless unborn—and now it’s time for our state to do just that. As governor, I will do whatever it takes to defend the most important freedom there is: the right to life.”

“Since coming into the majority, Senate Republicans have led on the issue of life,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. “In 2018 the Heartbeat Bill created significant momentum across the country for conservative states to initiate legislation to protect the unborn. One of those state laws led to the historic Dobbs decision by the US Supreme Court last week, opening the path for the 2018 law to be implemented in Iowa. I support the decision to put these laws back in front of the Court to protect life in Iowa.”

“For far too long, flawed Court rulings at the state and federal levels have blocked many of our attempts to listen to Iowans and expand pro-life protections,” said Speaker Pat Grassley. “Iowa House Republicans’ goal is to protect the lives of the unborn. That’s why I support the Governor’s decision on these legal actions as the best path forward to protect innocent life.”

Attorney General Tom Miller has also stated that he will be withdrawing from representing the State in these matters. Gov. Reynolds is retaining Alliance Defending Freedom and Iowa attorney Alan Ostergren, President and Chief Counsel of the Kirkwood Institute, to represent the State at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.

With the two landmark abortion rulings in the past two weeks—one from the Iowa Supreme Court and one from the U.S. Supreme Court—the status of abortion law has shifted dramatically in this Country and in Iowa. As a result, and because it is still evolving, we provide the following background information:

The Iowa Constitution makes no mention of abortion, but in 2018—161 years after the ratification of Iowa’s current Constitution—a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court claimed there was a “fundamental right” to abortion under the Iowa Constitution, under which virtually every law that the legislature passes to protect the life of an unborn child would be deemed unconstitutional under the so-called “strict scrutiny” standard.

That decision, which shut the door on the democratic process, was broader in its protection of abortion than the US Supreme Court’s decisions Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and it placed the Iowa Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence to the left of almost every state in the nation.

Thankfully, on June 17, the Iowa Supreme Court corrected that grave error, overruling the 2018 decision. A majority of the justices firmly rejected “the proposition that there is a fundamental right to an abortion in Iowa's Constitution subjecting abortion regulation to strict scrutiny,” saying that the 2018 decision was a “one-sided” ruling that “lacks textual and historical support.”

Nevertheless, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs, the Iowa Supreme Court did not definitively decide what standard, if any, should be applied to abortion restrictions under the Iowa Constitution. A plurality of justices invited the parties to litigate that issue further, and in the meantime they declared that the “undue burden” standard from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey would govern Iowa law “for now.”

It is under that undue-burden standard that the Iowa Supreme Court struck down Iowa’s prohibition on telemedicine abortion in 2015. And it is under that standard that other courts have struck down laws that prohibit abortion before viability, like Iowa’s heartbeat law.

Thus, while the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision was a step in the right direction, it left more work to be done in Iowa’s courts to fully protect the life of the unborn, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs that states have an important interest in doing. Gov. Reynolds fully intends to do that work.

Therefore, Gov. Reynolds is announcing today two legal actions: 

1. Gov. Reynolds will urge the Iowa Supreme Court to rehear Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds (known as PPH IV) in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. 

When the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision on June 17 in PPH IV, the U.S. Supreme Court had not issued Dobbs. But Justice Mansfield recognized that Dobbs would be released soon and acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision “could alter the federal constitutional landscape established by Roe and Casey'' and “provide insights that [the Iowa Supreme Court is] currently lacking.”

The U.S. Supreme Court provided those insights in Dobbs and thus the Iowa Supreme Court may now re-decide PPH IV with the wisdom of that ruling. Most significantly, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “undue burden” standard as an “arbitrary” test that has “caused confusion and disagreement” among courts trying to apply it. In its place, the Court adopted a “rational basis” test under which a law regulating abortion “must be sustained if there is a rational basis on which the legislature could have thought that it would serve legitimate state interests.”

The Governor will be filing for rehearing by this Friday’s deadline.

2. Gov. Reynolds will request that the Iowa courts lift the injunction against enforcement of Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law.

In 2018, the legislature passed and Gov. Reynolds signed a law outlawing abortion at six weeks, when the baby’s heartbeat can first be detected. A Polk County district court judge enjoined that law, prohibiting Iowa officials from enforcing it, based upon the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in PPH II where the Court erroneously created a fundamental right to abortion. Because the Iowa Supreme Court has now overruled that 2018 ruling and rejected the “strict scrutiny” standard it adopted. Gov. Reynolds will ask the district court to lift the injunction against the heartbeat law.

While this litigation moves forward to protect the unborn, Iowa’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks is still in effect.

News release from the Iowa Attorney General:

AG Miller declines to participate in governor's legal actions on abortion

'I doubt that I can zealously assert the state's position'

DES MOINES — Attorney General Tom Miller issued the following statement regarding Planned Parenthood v. Kim Reynolds, et al:

"Our office is withdrawing from the case involving the 24-hour waiting period, or House File 594, for ethical reasons. I have made many clear public statements supporting Roe v. Wade and the rationale that underlies it. Those statements would be inconsistent with what the state would argue in court. I support the undue burden standard that the U.S. Supreme Court set forth in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The 24-hour case has now moved to a point in which I doubt that I can zealously assert the state's position. The question now before the Iowa Supreme Court is whether the rational basis test should apply to abortion regulations. I believe that standard would have a detrimental impact on women’s reproductive rights, health care, and our society. Therefore, I am disqualifying myself pursuant to Iowa Code section 13.3.

"This decision is consistent with my disqualification in the fetal heartbeat case in 2018. In that case, I stated that I could not zealously assert the state's position because of my core belief that the statute, if upheld, would undermine rights and protections for women. In my nearly 40 years in office, I have declined to represent the state in only one other similar situation. I do not take lightly my responsibility to represent the state."

News release from Planned Parenthood:

Iowans Don’t Want Gov. Kim Reynolds to Outlaw Abortion in Iowa by Resurrecting Abortion Ban 

Des Moines, Iowa—Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds today asked the state’s courts to reinstate a six-week abortion ban that was previously ruled unconstitutional. If successful, Iowa would join the growing lists of states that have outlawed abortion in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week overturning Roe v. Wade. Most people do not know they are pregnant at 6 weeks, effectively eliminating safe, legal abortion.

Abortion currently remains safe and legal in Iowa, despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, and a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that lowered the scrutiny level for abortion legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court and Iowa Supreme Court rulings have paved the way for Gov. Reynolds and Republican politicians to move quickly to ban safe and legal abortion.

“Abortion remains safe and legal in Iowa, and Iowans want to keep it that way,” said Sheena Dooley, Communications Manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. “Regardless of our personal beliefs, we can all agree that Iowans deserve the right to control their bodies and futures—even though the courts have said politicians should be charged with those decisions. Gov. Reynolds wants to take us back decades in time by forcing pregnancy on Iowans, a grave violation of their human rights. Iowa is headed down a dangerous path where Gov. Reynolds will have more say over our reproductive health than we do.”