Iowa Legislature passes 'heartbeat' abortion bill

Legislation would ban abortions after 6 weeks

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — After debate that extended for more than 12 hours, members of the Iowa Legislature passed and sent to the governor legislation banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

“The time is now,” bill manager Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said early Tuesday afternoon when debate started on Senate File 359 that started in 2017 as a prohibition on the transfer of fetal body tissue. At about 11 p.m., the House passed the bill 51-46 and sent it to the Senate where debate started shortly before 1 a.m.

It’s time for the GOP to “quit playing doctor and stop using your positions of power to harass, control and disrespect Iowa women,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said. And Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said the bill isn’t about reducing the number of abortions. Instead, its sponsors seem “hell-bent on making a name for those who are set to challenge Roe v. Wade,” she said.

“Never mind how women’s rights will be run over by the Family Leader bus that’s headed to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mathis said.

Even though it was the middle of the night, Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who led a group of Republicans who refused to vote for budget bills until getting a chance to vote for the fetal heartbeat bill, said it was a “good day for life.”

He acknowledged this bill is an attempt to “take another run at Roe v. Wade,” he said about the 1973 Supreme Court decision to allow abortion, and predicted the bill will be the vehicle for overturning that decision. “We’re not hiding that.”

“The Supreme Court’s hands are tied by 40-year case law that has allowed 60 million babies to be aborted,” Lundgren said. “Science and technology have significantly advanced since 1973. It’s time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life. It has taken decades for the science to catch up with what many have believed all along, that she’s a baby.”


“You do not get to play God for these women … You do not get to play God just to get a bill in front of the Supreme Court,” Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said.

“No one wants abortions, but this bill won’t decrease the number of abortions,” Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said.

But it is unconstitutional, said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, and the Supreme Court has twice refused to hear similar cases. If SF 359 is signed into law, she predicted a court will give an injunction preventing its enforce-ment.

If the goal is fewer abortions, Wessel-Kroeschell said, more restrictions “only forces desperate women to find a way around those restrictions.”

“Middle-class and upper-class women always have access,” she said. “If Iowa manages to pass this extreme, ideological proposal, middle- and upper-class will travel to another state. These women can afford the plane ticket or auto fuel and possible hotel stays they need to accommodate an out-of-state abortion.

“Women struggling to feed the children they have will find a way to end pregnancy,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, perhaps resorting to pre-Roe methods involving coat hangars and “back alley” abortions.

However, Sen. Jim Carlin, D-Sioux City, warned that when society goes “down the path of deciding who is and who’s not a human, we have always lost our way.”

“Our departure from the path of our humanity to one another has resulted in grave consequences and great loss of life,” he said, adding that the value of a human life should not be determined by weeks.

SF 359, approved 43-6 in the Senate in March 2017, banned “knowingly acquiring, providing, receiving, otherwise transferring or using a fetal body part” It was amended earlier this year by the House Human Resources Committee to include language to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Lundgren amendment would allow abortions in a “medical emergency” or if “medically necessary,” including cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality prior to the 20th week of pregnancy that “in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment is incompatible with life.

The exceptions were a “good thing,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, “but you cannot put lipstick on this pig and make it better. No mucking around with exceptions will help.”

If SF 359 becomes law, she warned, Iowa and the University of Iowa will lose top medical talent.

“The UI Obstetrics and Gynecology Department claims that this bill risks their accreditation and ability to train residents. This bill may require the UI to make arrangements for resident training at another institution,” according to a House GOP analysis.

Wessel-Kroeschell offered an amendment to eliminate the abortion restrictions enacted in recent years.


“These restrictions do nothing to reduce or eliminate abortion, but put road-blocks between a woman and her physician in making the best medical decision for her,” she said.

In the end in the House, the vote was mostly along party lines with no Democrats voting for the bill. On final passage, Republican Reps. Baltimore, Lee Hein of Monticello, Jane Bloomingdale of Northwood, Andy McKean of Anamosa, Louie Zumbach of Coggon and David Maxwell of Gibson voted against the bill.

At 2:20 a.m., senators voted 29-17 to send the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who hasn’t said whether she will sign the bill, but repeatedly has described herself as “100 percent anti-abortion.”

Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, argued that although the bill included an exemption from criminal and civil penalty if a woman has an abortion that meets one of those exemptions, there is no similar exemption for doctors or other health care workers.

He said a doctor could be charged with murder even if she believed an abortion was a medical emergency or medically necessary.

Baltimore, also an attorney, disagreed.

He cited various sections of Iowa Code, including that murder is defined as killing another person “with malice aforethought.” As amended by Lundgren’s amendment, he said, an unborn child is not legally defined as a person, so an abortion in violation of the legislation does not meet the statutory definition of murder.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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