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Iowa Republicans Pass Total Abortion Ban as ‘Vehicle’ to Challenge ‘Roe’ (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

“This bill is one more example of state politicians, emboldened by the Trump-Pence administration, carrying out policy after policy that strip away people’s freedoms and access to care."

UPDATE, May 4, 4:54 p.m.Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Friday signed the GOP’s total abortion ban. Planned Parenthood announced the health-care organization would bring a legal challenge against the anti-choice law. 

The Iowa legislature on Wednesday passed a total abortion ban as part of a crusade by Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade.

State Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) said Iowa will be “ground zero” in an effort to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion care. “I believe this bill will be the vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Bertrand said, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Ohio GOP legislators in March mounted a challenge to Roe by passing a law that would criminalize abortion care. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced Congress’s first-ever total abortion ban in January 2017.

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So-called heartbeat bans have been deemed unconstitutional because they seek to ban abortion months before the point at which a fetus is viable. The “heartbeat bans,” which outlaw abortion care as early as six weeks’ gestation—before many people even know they’re pregnant—have been blocked by courts in both Arkansas and North Dakota. The Supreme Court declined to review either case.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the GOP legislation is an “extreme and draconian policy” intended to restrict the right to access reproductive health care.

“This bill is one more example of state politicians, emboldened by the Trump-Pence administration, carrying out policy after policy that strip away people’s freedoms and access to care,” Laguens said. “The right to control your body includes the right to access safe, legal abortion. Your body is your own, if it is not, we cannot be truly free or equal.”

SF 359 would prohibit abortion from the time a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, two weeks after a first missed period, and well before a person may realize that they are pregnant.

The bill includes an exception for rape, if it is reported within 45 days to a law enforcement agency or a private health agency, along with an exception for incest, if the incident is reported within 140 days. There are exceptions for fetal abnormalities that a physician determines are “incompatible with life,” and for a medical emergency, in which a physician determines the pregnancy must be terminated to “preserve the life” of the pregnant person.

There were 3,719 abortions performed in Iowa in 2016, and all but 230 abortions—6.2 percent—were performed prior to 14 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) said during the floor debate that the courts have ruled that similar laws were unconstitutional, and that the Iowa GOP’s total abortion ban would disproportionately affect marginalized communities, reported the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

“Middle-class and upper-class women always have access,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “If Iowa manages to pass this extreme, ideological proposal, middle- and upper-class will travel to another state. These women can afford the plane ticket or auto fuel and possible hotel stays they need to accommodate an out-of-state abortion.”

After several hours of debate, the Republican-controlled house Tuesday evening passed the bill with a narrow 51-46 vote, with six GOP lawmakers joining Democrats to vote against the bill. The bill was then sent to the state senate, where lawmakers in the early morning hours on Wednesday voted 29 to 17 to approve the changes made by the house.

The bill now heads to Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who has not stated whether she intends to sign the bill.

Brenna Smith, the governor’s spokesperson, said the governor is “100 percent prolife,” but the governor’s office has not received legislation and the “governor does not comment on any bill until she sees it in its final form,” reported the Des Moines Register.

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