Melanie Tietz and her husband were thrilled when they found out she was pregnant with their second child. The Decorah couple had their first child, a healthy baby boy, within two years of getting married and were ready to expand their family.
“Due to my age, we were offered prenatal testing. The initial test came back abnormal; we were sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, [Minnesota],” Tietz said. “I knew the minute I saw that face in the ultrasound that something was very wrong.”
The Tietzs’ second baby had spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.
“The doctor told us the baby would have severe cognitive disabilities, not walk, never have control of their bladder, and would require multiple surgeries over the next weeks and years to address all of the physical issues,” Tietz said.
The couple did what they thought was best for their family: Melanie underwent an abortion, but not until after talking it over with other important people in their life.
“We talked with our local doctor, we talked with our family and our friends, and we talked with our pastor, but not once did it occur to me to talk to my legislator,” she said.
Tietz shared this story with a room full of strangers and thousands more watching online on Tuesday during an Iowa Senate subcommittee hearing to make a point about a new legislative effort by Iowa Republicans to ban abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant. The bill includes exceptions for rape and incest, but only if the cases are reported to law enforcement (which they often aren’t), for fetal abnormalities that are “incompatible with life,” and for medical crises in which the woman faces death or serious danger to her health.
Gov. Kim Reynolds called for the special legislative session on July 5, a few weeks after the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a previous abortion ban she had signed into law.
Tietz was one of dozens who testified against the bill on Tuesday during separate public hearings put on by the Iowa House and Senate. Hundreds of reproductive rights advocates also flooded the Capitol Rotunda to oppose these new proposed restrictions.
Felicia Hilton of Des Moines was among those who spoke out against the legislation. She said the limited exclusions for victims of rape and incest to be able to receive an abortion if they adhere to certain criteria defined in the law isn’t enough.
“You think that’s a real thing that people report incest? Maybe you haven’t been in families where this has happened, but I have and they don’t report it,” Hilton said. “You don’t report it, as a family, you try to handle it yourself…”
Hilton also called out Bob Vander Plaats and other leaders on the religious right. Vander Plaats, who wrote a Des Moines Register op-ed calling for a special session, is the president and CEO of Family Leader, a prominent social conservative organization that holds tremendous sway in Republican politics.
“Where was he when Kim Reynolds said she wasn’t going to feed kids anymore—these same kids that you made it harder for to get eligible for SNAP when Infamil is $30 or more a can? Really? Really? Where were they then? Where are all these church people when she’s denying people health care,” Hilton said.
“I’m just saying if this is about the church and if this is about God, you are the same people that would slap them loaves of bread out of Jesus’ hand, slap out the fish out of Jesus’ hand and tell them to get in line to figure out if they are worthy or eligible,” she continued.
While most of the people who flooded the rotunda were opposed to the bill, there were also dozens of supporters there—some of whom clashed with counter-protestors—and others who also testified during public hearings in favor of passing the legislation.
Kristi Judkins, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, said people have called her a hypocrite because she had an abortion, but she says that experience is why she advocates to stop women from repeating her mistake.
“Who here would tell someone to make the same negative, permanent life-changing mistake?” Judkins asked. “I don’t want people to suffer the same consequences but rather help them understand the truth.”
Loras College student Grace Van Patten said she was pro-choice until she attended her private, catholic college in Dubuque. She said while at school, she stumbled across new information that changed her perception.
Most of the anti-abortion arguments centered on Christian religious beliefs and a scientifically inaccurate definition of a “fetal heartbeat” as cited in the bill.
The “fetal heartbeat” is described in the legislative text as “cardiac activity, the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”
In reality, there is no “fetal heart” until later in pregnancy, usually around 10 weeks. Instead, the fetus’ cardiac tissue starts to pulse at around 5–6 weeks of pregnancy, registering as a heartbeat on the ultrasound, even though the heart has not developed yet. Even still, the legislation would ban abortions at the moment that this cardiac tissue begins pulsing.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill advanced to the floor for debate on Tuesday evening.
by Ty Rushing
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