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Iowa State Senate Passes ‘Unconstitutional’ Total Abortion Ban

Nicole Knight

Federal courts blocked "heartbeat bans" in Arkansas and North Dakota laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the states’ appeals.

Iowa Senate Republicans on Wednesday advanced what amounts to a total abortion ban—a bill the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa called unconstitutional.

The bill, SF 2281, prohibits doctors from performing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically as early as six weeks’ gestation, before most people know they’re pregnant. It makes an exception for cases of life endangerment, but not rape or incest.

Physicians could face felony charges and up to five years of jail time for performing abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat.

Considered among the most extreme of anti-choice restrictions, GOP lawmakers have passed so-called heartbeat bans in Arkansas and North Dakota. Federal courts blocked the laws in both states, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the states’ appeals.

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Though Ohio’s GOP-dominated state legislature pushed through a six-week ban in late 2016, Gov. John Kasich (R) vetoed the measure, instead signing a 20-week ban.

The Iowa legislation now heads to the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives, where a similar ban failed last year for lack of Republican support, as the Des Moines Register reported.

Critics suggested to the publication that the “heartbeat ban” might worsen Iowa’s shortage of OB-GYNs and rural doctors. They called the legislation “dangerous” and “extreme.”

“Under this Republican bill, you would force a child rape victim to have a baby, no matter how young she is,” said state Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines). “That is unfathomable.”

Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, told Rewire that he believes the legislation “is unconstitutional.”

Opponents of the bill included the Iowa Medical Society, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and the state’s Board of Regents—which is concerned the ban would jeopardize its accreditation and family planning training program.

Supporters include the anti-choice groups Phyllis Schlafly Eagles of Iowa and Concerned Women for America of Iowa.

“A failure to pass this bill would be the true war on women in its most pure sense,” said state Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) during floor debate.

Iowa has among the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, including a 20-week abortion ban. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are challenging provisions in a 2017 GOP-backed law mandating a 72-hour delay and a “medically unnecessary clinic appointment” before a patient can receive abortion care.

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