Iowa Doctors Warn Six-Week Abortion Ban Risks Lives

Drs. Emily Boevers and Francesca Turner during a July 7 press conference.

Abortion bans endanger people’s lives and fly in the face of medical science and training.

That was the message delivered by Dr. Emily Boevers, an OB-GYN in Waverly; Dr. Francesca Turner, an OB-GYN in Des Moines; and Dr. Jill Meadows, the former medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland during a Friday press conference.

“It’s political theatre that’s going on right now with women’s lives,” Turner said.

She and the other doctors talked about the multiple different pregnancy complications they’ve seen, some more life-threatening than others, but all requiring them to make fast decisions based on well-established medical standards.

“When we put restrictions on the physician-patient relationship or we put restrictions on how I can practice evidence-based medicine, I think that could delay care,” Turner said. “And then there are definitely certain instances where that delay in care could end up in loss of life.”

She said the government shouldn’t be making medical decisions for her patients.

The press conference was held ahead of a special session of the Iowa Legislature to consider a new six-week abortion ban. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the special session on July 5 and it starts Tuesday, July 11.

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The special session comes after the Iowa Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3, meaning the lower court’s decision held and the 2018 six-week abortion ban was permanently blocked.

Meadows said a six-week ban doesn’t make medical sense because there are a number of reasons why people don’t know they’re pregnant that early. She listed athletes, different types of anatomy, contraception failure, medical conditions, and age as potential reasons.

“It’s unrealistic and cruel and unfair to expect that people are going to be taking pregnancy tests every day. And also expensive,” she said.

“But then these government mandates, including so-called exceptions, don’t really work in real life, day-to-day situations where we’re having to make quick decisions in real time,” Meadows continued.

Boevers told a story about a woman she treated during her residency in Kansas City. At 21 weeks, the otherwise healthy woman started to develop kidney failure. Soon, her liver began failing too.

“It was very difficult to find this woman the resources she needed, even in that large institution, to navigate the different complex systems in place in order to get her access to an abortion,” Boevers said. “And I think about situations like that often here in my role and this rural hospital where I’m one of about 20 health-care providers.”

In Waverly, Boevers said she doesn’t have the resources to quickly determine whether a pregnancy has made it to the six-week mark. Very few people know they’re pregnant at that point.

“I’m very, very concerned about this bill, and I’m very concerned about the dramatic responsibility that it’s going to place on health care providers to try to decide how urgently somebody might die from their pregnancy,” she said.

That early in the pregnancy, the so-called “heartbeat” is a chemical reaction, not the beating of a physical heart, Boevers said.

“We’re going to have to justify mothers dying because our governor and our representatives think that that is less important than an early pregnancy,” she said.

The court invited Iowa legislators to try to pass abortion restrictions again, especially considering the makeup of the Iowa Legislature has changed since 2018. At the time, the six-week ban passed the House 51-46 and the Senate 29-17.

The law has never been popular with Iowans.

When it passed in 2018, 52% of Iowans said the six-week ban went too far in response to a Des Moines Register poll. In that same poll, 54% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

In a 2023 Des Moines Register poll, 61% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. When it comes to Iowa women, who will be most affected by restrictions, 70% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

And the number of people who said they were undecided has gone down from 7% to 4%.

These numbers have held since October 2022.

Boevers and Turner said they couldn’t say whether a new ban would make them leave the state. Turner said she isn’t personally in danger so she anticipates staying for patients, and Boevers said it would be a hard choice she’d have to make at the time.

Iowa already has a severe shortage of maternal health care. The number of OB-GYNs per capita puts the state at last in the nation, according to data from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“It’s very likely that a six-week ban here in Iowa will functionally be a total ban here in Iowa, because I think it’s very likely that it will be very difficult to have access to care for most of our patients prior to six weeks on a regular basis,” Boevers said.


Nikoel Hytrek

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