Iowa abortion bill hailed and assailed

Reactions range from 'remarkable step' to 'extreme'

Bob Vander Plaats

Family Leader
Bob Vander Plaats Family Leader

One of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills, now on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk, brought widely divergent reactions Wednesday.

Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, celebrated the legislation’s passage on the website of his conservative organization: “This vote represents a remarkable step forward in the defense of human life. The heartbeat bill could save thousands of babies every year from the horror of abortion, and its passage demonstrates that many in our culture recognize that the little girl, with her heart beating in her mother’s womb — she’s a baby.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland called the overnight passage of the “heartbeat” bill “an apparent race to pass the most extreme abortion ban in the nation.”

The Iowa legislators’ attempt to effectively ban abortion is a “blemish” on the state and serves as a reminder that “Iowa’s leadership does not value health care,” Erin Davison-Rippey, public affairs director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa, said in a statement.

“If these lawmakers really wanted to decrease the need for abortion, they would work to increase access to birth control,” Davison-Rippley said. “Instead, they’ve decimated access to family planning because it is not about reducing abortion — it is about oppressing women and catering to a small, extreme interest group.”

Mark Stringer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, expressed similar sentiments, saying he was “outraged” by the legislation.

“It’s especially disturbing that the passage of this bill comes at a time when Iowa legislators have also led a devastating assault on access to family planning and contraception, especially for poor and rural women,” Stringer said in a statement, referring to the Legislature’s creation of the Family Planning Network last year, which resulted in the closure of four Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.


By midday Wednesday, Iowa House Democrats were using the Republican-led abortion restrictions in a fundraising appeal.

In an email carrying the Washington Post’s headline, “Iowa lawmakers approve the most restrictive abortion bill,” they asked Democrats to “chip in $5 or more right now to help defeat the Republican legislators who just took away a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”

Both Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and ACLU Iowa called on Reynolds to veto the bill.

“Along with our partner organizations, the ACLU of Iowa will stand with Iowa women to protect their fundamental right to control their bodies and their lives,” Stringer said.

legal challenges

If the bill is signed into law, it’s likely it will be challenged in court.

Veronica Fowler, ACLU Iowa’s communications director, said the organization could not comment on legal strategy, “but (we) are prepared for all options.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said Wednesday he is “considering what our responsibility is” in terms of representing the state if the law is challenged.

“In the vast majority of case we defend state statutes ... even if we don’t agree,” he said. “This could be a rare exception. The question is whether this a rare exception.”

One consideration is whether defending the statute would be consistent with amicus briefs the attorney general has filed in other cases.


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Miller suggested he would be reluctant to defend the law “if we feel it is clearly unconstitutional.”

The Thomas More Society and Liberty Counsel, a faith-based legal society based in Chicago, is offering assistance to the state should there be legal challenges.

University of Iowa impacts

If Reynolds signs the bill into law, its impact on OB-GYN training at the University of Iowa, the only such program in the state, remains in question.

OB-GYN programs, in order to be accredited, must offer training in abortion and abortion complications. Medical students and residents can opt out, but it still must be offered, according to rules from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The UI program is scheduled for a routine site visit this summer by the council, Dr. Marygrace Elson, program director of the OB-GYN residency program, said.

It’s possible the UI program could be cited for not being able to provide that training, Elson said, adding the program would have about a year to correct the situation before losing accreditation.

“This would involve either establishing our own clinic across the border, or to identify an entity outside of the state at which our residents could receive the required training,” Elson told The Gazette. “We estimate a cost of around $800,000 per year, if, for example, we established a clinic in Illinois — dollars that would otherwise be going to other departmental educational endeavors.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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