Iowa Senate passes bill restricting abortion after 20th week of pregnancy

Procedure banned after pregnancy's 20th week

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa doctors would be barred from performing abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy or face criminal penalties under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate on a 32-17 vote Tuesday evening.

Senate File 471 would not penalize women who seek or get a later-term abortion, but rather would create a situation where doctors who perform the abortions could face a felony and up to 10 years in prison. Two Democrats and Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson joined 29 Republicans in supporting the bill while 17 Democrats opposed it.

Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, the bill’s floor manager, said current Iowa law makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after the end of the second trimester and the bill’s provisions would move up that timeline to 20 weeks post-fertilization.

“I wish we could go even further but tonight we have a wonderful bill that we can at least save many children from 20 weeks and on,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull.

The bill provided an exception for circumstances in which the mother’s life was in danger or to avert a serious health risk or physical impairment, Costello added, as well as an exception for “fetal anomaly incompatible with life” up until 24 weeks of the pregnancy.

“I think that it’s a decent bill that we need to go ahead and pass and send it to the House,” Costello said.

Tuesday’s debate opened with Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, offering an amendment to strike the bill’s language and replace it with the so-called personhood bill — which would have established in code that life begin at conception and could have effectively banned abortions.

The amendment was ruled irrelevant to the bill, but Chapman requested that the Senate suspend the rules to take up the issue which was the subject of a separate bill that filed to advance through committee. Senators voted 33-16 to not suspend the rules, by which the amendment was ruled not germane.

Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, expressed disappointment the personhood amendment failed, saying “we had a chance tonight to do something very special and it went down.”

GOP senators and Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson turned back an amendment, 30-19, offered by Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, to base the criteria instead on viability on the basis of medical judgment.

“I have to tell you I think this is probably one of the most mean-spirited bills I’ve seen yet this year and we’ve seen a lot of mean-spirited bills,” said Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. “You are not doctors. We are politicians messing in an area which we have no business to be involved in.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and other critics called Senate File 471 “unnecessary” and unconstitutional, contending that the medical decisions contemplated in the bill should be made by a woman, her family and her physician — not politicians. Supporters urged Iowa to join 15 other states that already have placed restrictions on abortions performed after 22 weeks gestation or 20 weeks post-fertilization.” “The war on women continues,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines. “This is really unfortunate.”

After a subcommittee meeting last month, Erin Davison-Rippey, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said legislative action during this year’s session could well see court action if approved and signed into law.

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