In a one-day special session called just weeks after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against their previous attempt to ban abortion, Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate rushed through yet another law to restrict reproductive freedoms.
The newly-passed bill, expected to be quickly signed into law, will essentially ban abortion in Iowa at 6 weeks, as it requires physicians to test for “a detectable fetal heartbeat” with an abdominal ultrasound before they perform an abortion. 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.
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.
On multiple occasions Tuesday, Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) justified the speed of the process by saying the bill they were passing was basically the 2018 six-week abortion ban bill that narrowly passed and that was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Democrats in the Senate introduced 13 amendments, all of which were shot down.
One came from Sen. Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines) to add “the pregnant person is under 16 years of age” to the list of immediate exceptions. Sen. Molly Donahue (D-Cedar Rapids) introduced another to make the age limit under 12 years. A similar amendment was also introduced and voted down along party lines in the Iowa House.
“This here is not supporting survivors through our legal system,” Celsi said. “Not to mention that no one in this age group is capable of raising a child on their own. The state should not force babies to birth babies. That is what potentially could happen if this amendment is not adopted.”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) said rape and incest victims, especially if they’re young, often have close relationships with their rapists and so have no incentive to report—if they even know how, or have the support from someone to help them.
Sen. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) introduced an amendment to remove the reporting requirement for rape and incest (45 days and 140 days, respectively) and add an explicit definition for both.
“Less than a third of sexual assaults are ever reported to police and even smaller percentage are reported within 45 days,” Bennett said. “And this is unconscionable. Republican politicians have decided that an assault is not enough.”
Things weren’t much better in the House.
During the House debate, Rep. Megan Srinivas (D-Des Moines), who is also a medical doctor, questioned Rep. Ann Meyer (R-Fort Dodge) who introduced the bill, as to why the legislation requires doctors to use a version of ultrasound that isn’t the standard used for pregnancy care.
Meyer said they are using that version of ultrasound because it was the same language used in the 2018 version of the bill.
“This is a very imprecise technology that doesn’t provide accurate results, which is why we don’t use it as a medical standard of care. When we find out that a new cancer drug works better than an older one, we don’t repeat the old one just because it was in the book five years ago, so why are we not going with the medical standard of care,” Srinivas said.
“We chose this in the bill,” Meyer responded.
“Okay, so it’s good to know this was not based on any medical standards of care,” Srinivas concluded.
House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst (D-Windsor Heights) called out the pace of passing this bill and how, based on legislative comments and poll numbers, Iowans do not support additional abortion restrictions.
“A majority of Iowans support reproductive freedom,” she said. “I do think it matters because we were sent here to represent our constituents and we are supposed to do what our constituents want us to do.”
Konfrst said decisions like this should be up to a woman and her doctor.
“Women are not free,” she said. “After today, women will be less free.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (R-Williamsburg) spoke in favor of the bill. He suggested abstinence for those who worry about access to abortion services.
“Everyone is free not to have sex. Maybe they shouldn’t have sex; it’s that simple. I will stand for everyone’s rights to practice abstinence,” he said. “Abortion has little to anything to do with reproductive rights. In fact, when a male and female have sexual relations resulting in a pregnancy, reproduction has already happened.”
The bill passed in both chambers in nearly unanimous party-line votes—Republican Reps. Mark Cisneros and Zach Dieken, who previously co-sponsored an abortion bill with zero exceptions joined Democrats in voting “no”—and will take effect upon Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signature.
Reynolds confirmed she will sign it on Friday where she will also appear at the Family Leadership Summit 23, sponsored by The Family Leader. The event held by the socially conservative organization will feature multiple Republican presidential candidates, former Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, and Reynolds is slated to be a featured speaker.
“Today, the Iowa legislature once again voted to protect life and end abortion at a heartbeat, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother,” Reynolds said in a release.
“The Iowa Supreme Court questioned whether this legislature would pass the same law they did in 2018, and today they have a clear answer. The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed,” she continued. “As a pro-life Governor, I am also committed to continuing policies to support women in planning for motherhood, promote the importance of fatherhood, and encourage strong families. Our state and country will be stronger because of it.”
Story updated with remarks from Gov. Kim Reynolds.
By Ty Rushing and Nikoel Hytrek
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