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Iowa House panel seeks middle ground on restricting late-term abortions

DES MOINES – Pro-life House Republicans believe they can find common ground with pro-choice Democrats on a bill to restrict late-term abortions.

Abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy are “unconscionable even to some pro-choice Democrats,” Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said Jan. 18 after a subcommittee meeting on House File 5, which would prohibit late-term abortions except in cases of medical emergencies.

However, there was little evidence of common ground as subcommittee member Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroschell, D-Ames, raised questions about the proposal’s intent, scientific underpinnings, legal implications and the accuracy of referring to later-term abortions.

Given that a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks, Wessel-Kroschell said an abortion at 20 weeks should be called a mid-term abortion.

Beyond terminology, Wessel-Kroschell also raised questions about the constitutionality of HF 5 and the need for the bill.

“What we are trying to solve has been solved in the courts,” Wessel-Kroschell said.

Subcommittee Chairman Rich Anderson, R-Clarinda, said the decision by Nebraska abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart to open a clinic in the Council Bluffs area spurred pro-life Republicans into action. He’s been contacted by constituents, including abortion rights backers who say late-term abortions “cross the line for them.”

HF 5 is similar to one enacted by the Nebraska Legislature based on the idea fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks.

Wessel-Kroschell called that research “shady” and said scientific research indicates fetuses are in a state of sleep-like unconsciousness.

If that’s the case, Windschitl asked why are painkillers used when neonatal surgery is performed.

“If that child can feel pain, is it not the states’ right, and do we not have a responsibility to protect that child?” he asked.

Wessel-Kroschell asked for information, including data on the number of later-term – or mid-term — abortions performed in Iowa and the reasons for abortions after the 20th week.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control, the number of abortions performed in Iowa has fallen from 6,059 in 2000 to 5,829 in 2009. Six abortions were induced after the 20th week in 2009, according to Public Health. Live births in the state fell from 38,266 to 35,589.

Anderson plans to hold another subcommittee meeting before sending the bill to the full Human Resources Committee. He hopes to craft a “narrow bill” that is acceptable to people on both sides of the abortion debate.

Please attribute Kyle Carlson, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which is registered against the bill, said the organization is “willing to listen to proponents of this bill, with the understanding that protecting a woman’s ability to make the best decision for her family, and her health and safety are our top priority.”

Windschitl, who was joined by 31 other Republicans in sponsoring HF 5, said there is “room to go toward the middle, but not far.”

He’s willing to listen to legitimate concerns, but based on the questions Wessel-Kroschell asked, Windschitl believes it is her intent to “tank the bill.”

“So why would I move to the middle?” he asked.

Republicans, who have a 60-40 majority, expect to send the bill to the Senate where its fate is less certain.

Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, who chairs the Senate Human Resources Committee, hasn’t read the bill, but said the committee would take a look at it if the House sends it over. Ragan agreed there may be room for agreement.

Seven Republican senators introduced Senate File 42, a companion to HF 5, Tuesday.

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