Clara was 29, five-and-a-half-months pregnant, and excited to have another baby.
One night, she started to feel pain but decided to see if it passed and go to her job as a nurse. She’d call her OBGYN in the morning.
Clara knew she was at slightly higher risk of complications because she’d had cervical cancer in her early 20s, but so far none of the other complications she’d experienced had needed intervention.
This time was different. Halfway through her shift, her supervisor sent her to the hospital’s obstetrics unit because something was wrong.
“But before I could even change into my hospital gown, I passed out on the bathroom floor and became violently ill,” Clara said.
Her medical team decided to deliver the baby via C-section in an attempt to save both of them from a bacterial infection. Clara’s organs began to fail, her doctors told her husband they weren’t sure either would survive. After 45 minutes of CPR, the baby did not. Clara’s doctors, concerned about the damage to her body and brain, put her in a coma for five days.
When she left the hospital 11 days later, Clara said her OBGYN later told her she was at high risk for losing other pregnancies in the second or third trimester if she got pregnant again. She was also more likely to die.
“I tell you my story to remind you that carrying a child is the most dangerous thing that we do as people,” Clara said. “For any person, it requires so much of our bodies and not everyone’s body can take that journey. If I became pregnant tomorrow, I would require an abortion in order to safeguard my life.”
If Gov. Kim Reynolds’ six-week abortion ban is allowed to go into effect Iowans wouldn’t be able to make that decision for themselves.
A Polk County District Court will decide on Friday whether to lift the injunction on the 2018 law that bans abortion after electrical activity in an embryo is detected.
Iowa Democrats held a press conference Thursday to highlight the stakes of the decision. Clara, whose last name wasn’t provided, told her story there. Gubernatorial Candidate Deidre DeJear and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst also spoke.
“Most of Iowans agree with this type of care and not to mention we’ve been here before not only as a state but as a country,” DeJear said. “We know the damage that this type of legislation causes. So why are we putting Iowans in this position?”
She said every pregnancy differs and carries different risks and levels of complication. DeJear said black-and-white rules about how pregnancy is handled can’t work. She noted any policy that tries is just going to put people in harm’s way.
“The research has shown us so much over these last 10, 15, 20 years about the necessity for abortion care,” DeJear said. “And the fact that our governor is ignoring that we should ask that question why?”
A six-week ban would essentially be a total ban on abortion in Iowa.
When a woman finds out they’re pregnant varies, but about half of all pregnancies are unexpected, which means many pregnant people find out too late to do anything.
The justification for the six-week ban is the presence of electrical activity that is commonly called a heartbeat.
However, that early in pregnancy, the embryo doesn’t have a heart, and so to call it a heartbeat is not an accurate medical term, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Reynolds and Republican legislators first passed the six-week ban in 2018. At the time, it was the most restrictive abortion law in the country.
It was suspended based on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling, that Iowa’s Constitution protected the right to abortion. The ruling was about a different restriction.
But this year, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed that decision. Additionally, the week before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, two cases that had previously protected pregnant people’s autonomy.
Because of those changes, Reynolds’ lawyers argue the legal ground has shifted enough that the Polk County District Court’s decision in the six-week ban should be vacated. This strategy is being pursued by many who are anti-abortion.
The majority of Iowans, 61%, support abortion being legal in all or most cases, and 49% of Iowans don’t agree with the six-week restriction, according to a recent Des Moines Register poll.
“We are talking about the lives of Iowans that the governor and Republicans in the legislature are ignoring or pushing down and are saying don’t matter,” Konfrst said.
Clara and her husband didn’t want to risk her life for another pregnancy. They decided their family was complete at three.
“Is my life, my life as a mother, my life as a wife to my husband, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend, is it really less important than the future possibility of life?” Clara asked.
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