Council member's proposal would bar investigations of abortion law violations in Des Moines

Police and city officials would be limited in their ability to investigate a person for accessing or providing abortions in Des Moines under a proposed resolution drafted by City Council member Josh Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum says Des Moines should do its part to safeguard access to abortion for residents in a state that could impose further restrictions on reproductive health care. With other cities across the country taking action to protect abortion access following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, he said, the resolution also would send a signal to the community that Des Moines is not idly standing by.

Mandelbaum will call for a vote at Monday's council meeting to further discuss the resolution at a later council workshop.

Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum
Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum

"We know the folks we represent overwhelmingly support access to abortion care and that should be codified in state and federal law," Mandelbaum said. "This issue is of (significant) importance. It's a value statement and it's something we can do to signal to our residents that we're in opposition."

In June, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a 2018 decision enshrining abortion as a "fundamental right" in Iowa. A week later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two federal decisions that for decades had limited state restrictions on abortion.

Abortions remain legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, and a July Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 60% of Iowans favor keeping abortion legal in most or all cases.  But in the wake of the court decisions, lawyers for Gov. Kim Reynolds are seeking to revive a six-week abortion ban a Polk County judge blocked after it received legislative approval.

"We know with what the U.S. Supreme Court did (in overturning nationwide legal protections for abortion rights) ... they explicitly said this is better to be decided by local elected officials who are closest to the consequences," Mandelbaum said. "We're actually even closer to the consequences of these actions than some of these state officials.

"Our constituents are directly impacted. It's the people in our community who are going to lose access to health care directly if the governor is trying to reinstate the 'fetal heartbeat' bill," he said, referring to the six-week ban, which is based on when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.

More:See what Chuck Grassley, Mike Franken say about abortion and inflation in Iowa's U.S. Senate race

What would the Des Moines abortion resolution do?

Under the proposal, the city of Des Moines, except to the extent otherwise required by federal and state law, would not use its funds to:

  • Store or catalog any reports of abortion or miscarriage.

  • Give abortion or reproductive health care information to governmental bodies or agencies, unless it's to defend a patient or health care provider's rights.

  • Conduct surveillance or collect information about a person or organization to determine if an abortion has occurred.

According to the proposal, charges or information relating to the outcome of a pregnancy and abortion-related care will be the "lowest priority for enforcement and the use of City resources."

The proposal would require the council to work on an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination, that, for example, could prevent a person from getting a house or employment based on reproductive health decisions, Mandelbaum said.

The city also would draft an ordinance to reimburse its employees for travel relating to receiving reproductive services if they were no longer available in Iowa.

More:Where Deidre DeJear, Rick Stewart & Kim Reynolds stand on key issues in Iowa governor race

Is the abortion proposal supported within the city council?

Mandelbaum could face opposition from at least one of his fellow council members. At-large member Connie Boesen said Friday she does not support the resolution at this time.

"I don’t believe it’s a city of Des Moines issue," Boesen said, calling abortion a state and federal matter. "I'm for women's rights ... but don’t know if it’s in the realm of the city."

Mandelbaum countered that the council has weighed in on other issues of broad importance, such as marijuana and gun safety.

"They are state and federal matters, but they are of sufficient importance that it justifies us weighing in," he said. "I do think we need to use our voice."

Ward 2 council member Linda Westergaard echoed Boesen's sentiments, adding discussion about the resolution is not a good use of taxpayer dollars.

"I have been fighting for women's equal rights since the '60s," Westergaard said. But "it is not within our purview to be dealing with things like abortion, marijuana — that is state-controlled. And I would urge everyone who wants to change the law is that you work with the Legislature and you work to elect people that represent your beliefs.

"I was elected to watch where our dollars are spent. Let's spend the money on things that we can fix or make better, such as roads, trees," she said.

Mandelbaum said the resolution sets up a parameter so Des Moines is not caught "flat-footed" if the governor is successful in reviving the six-week ban or if the Iowa Legislature takes further action.

All of the resolutions will comply with state and federal law, but allow the city to determine how it uses and prioritizes its resources, Mandelbaum said.

More:With Roe v. Wade gone, Iowa argues courts should lift injunction on 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban

Des Moines Register reporter Katie Akin contributed to this article.

Virginia Barreda is the Des Moines city government reporter for the Register. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @vbarreda2

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: No abortion investigations in Des Moines under city council proposal