What’s In The Iowa GOP’s New Abortion Ban Bill?

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

By Nikoel Hytrek
July 7, 2023

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have dropped their new six-week abortion ban, which will be heard during the special legislative session starting Tuesday, July 11.

The law requires physicians test for “a detectable fetal heartbeat” with an abdominal ultrasound before they perform an abortion.

The “fetal heartbeat” is described as “cardiac activity, the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”

Generally, that comes between six and eight weeks of pregnancy but there is no “fetal heart” until later in the pregnancy. And until eight weeks, the pregnancy is an embryo. Very few people know they’re pregnant at this point.

The bill does say abortions can be performed if the pregnancy was the result of rape, as long as that rape was reported within 45 days (about six-and-a-half weeks) of it being committed. Most rapes in the US, about 81%, go unreported.

Abortions can also be performed if the pregnancy is the result of incest, as long as it’s reported within 140 days (20 weeks). The numbers for how many cases of incest are reported vary, but most experts agree it’s far less than the actual number.

Miscarriages, if not all the pregnancy tissue is expelled from the body, is also a case where abortion is allowed. If the physician judges there’s an abnormality incompatible with life, an abortion would also be allowed.

All of these are labeled “fetal heartbeat exceptions.”

The bill also says abortions are allowed for medical exceptions, defined as “a situation in which an abortion is performed to preserve the life of the pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy… or when continuation of the pregnancy will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”

Psychological and emotional conditions don’t count. Neither do the pregnant person’s age or their family situation.

After the exam, doctors are required to tell patients the result in writing and tell them an abortion is prohibited if the electrical activity was detected. The patient then has to sign a form confirming that they got the information.

All of that information goes into her medical record.

“Republican politicians have proved yet again that they only listen to the special interests, not Iowans. Their bill to ban abortion is deadly for Iowa women and a strong majority of Iowans support reproductive freedom,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst in an emailed statement.

“Iowa Democrats believe that everyone deserves the right to make their own health care decisions, especially when it comes to reproductive care and abortion. Politicians and judges have no place interfering in someone else’s decisions about when to start a family. When we return to the State Capitol on Tuesday, we are going to put people over politics and fight for the reproductive freedom of every Iowan.”


*Updated to include Rep. Jennifer Konfrst’s comments.

Nikoel Hytrek


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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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