Just a few short years ago, Iowa was leading the way in safe and legal abortion access with the new telemedicine process that provided options to women living in rural areas. Now, after this year’s legislative session at the Statehouse, Iowa will join just a handful of states in enacting some of the most stringent restrictions on abortion rights in the entire country.
This week the Iowa House passed a 20-week abortion ban, supported by all but one Republican in the chamber. The Iowa Senate approved their version of the bill a week prior, but will have to vote on it again thanks to several amendments passed by the House.
Among those changes were a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. Only five other states impose such a long waiting period: Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah. 17 other states have enacted a 20-week ban.
And the 20-week ban comes with very few exemptions. The only exception for an abortion after that time is if a doctor determined that continuing the pregnancy risked the life of the mother or a serious health complication. There are no exemptions for instances of rape or incest, or when a deformity in the fetus is found that would cause it to not survive birth.
Democrats argued that omitting such exemptions were particularly cruel, as some women who are raped and suffer from the resulting emotional distress do not realize their pregnancy until much later in the process. And they found it disturbing that Republicans wanted to force women to continue on with a pregnancy even when it was clear that child would die immediately or soon after delivery.
Republicans also included language to force doctors to provide what abortion rights activists call “biased counseling,” offering to tell women about their ultrasound (Iowa law already mandates an ultrasound prior to an abortion) and let them hear the fetus’ heartbeat, essentially meant to shame them out of the decision.
Iowa had relatively few abortion restrictions in place prior to this year, as Democrats had been able to hold on to at least one legislative chamber or the governor’s office during the past two decades when the pro-life movement has pushed for stricter state-level laws. And Republicans here did not go as far as a few other states in requiring most abortions be performed at hospitals or facilities that have agreements with local hospitals. Doing that effectively shuts down many abortion provider clinics.
They also pulled back on the fetal heartbeat provision that many Republicans wanted to pass, and would have essentially banned most abortions after six weeks. However, they came to doubt that such a measure would survive a court challenge, and dropped it.
Still, Iowa women will face a vastly different environment when they find themselves in a difficult personal decision. They will have a more narrow time period in which to seek an abortion and will be forced to wait three days after an initial consultation with a doctor in which they receive misleading information designed to shame them. The women who find themselves in the most dire circumstances – where they discover a pregnancy months after a rape or when the fetus is certain to die – will be forced to carry their pregnancy to term.
And a Planned Parenthood defund bill is still working its way through the Statehouse. The Senate very quickly passed legislation at the beginning of session to completely revamp Iowa’s family planning funding process so they could deny funds to Planned Parenthood. Since then the issue has laid dormant, but Republicans are expected to revisit and pass it in the upcoming budget debate.
The Senate will still need to act on the House’s amendments, and may not approve all of them. Governor Terry Branstad is expected to sign it into law once it gets to his desk. Regardless of whether every provision makes it there, Iowa Republicans will have used their new majorities to pass the most sweeping anti-choice laws the state has ever seen.
Once a bright spot for reproductive rights in the Midwest, Iowa will soon join the deepest-red states in America in denying constitutionally-protected healthcare access for women facing difficult, personal decisions.
by Pat Rynard