Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Bill Passes Iowa House and Senate in Late-Night Votes

May 2, 2018

A bill that would ban almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected passed the Iowa House late Tuesday night and the Iowa Senate early Wednesday morning following hours of passionate debate.

The bill would ban most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy, with some exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the life of the mother. It now goes to the governor’s desk.

If signed into law, this would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and it’s likely a lawsuit would immediately be filed to block it. Bill supporters have said they want Iowa to take this law to the nation’s highest court to challenge the Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

Rep. Shannon Lundgren, a Republican from Peosta, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s “hands have been tied” by the 1973 decision.

“It is time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life,” Lundgren said. “It has taken decades for the science to catch up to what many have believed all along: that she’s a baby.”

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames, said lawmakers should consider that several medical groups opposed this bill.

“We may disagree, and we clearly do disagree, on this issue,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “But we have to look at what’s actually the right thing to do, and who should be making these decisions, and it is not us.”

Wessel-Kroeschell said the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left to women and medical experts.

After nine hours of debate, House members voted 51-46, mostly along party lines. Six Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the bill.

Senate debate started about two hours later, just before 1:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Rick Bertrand of Sioux City said he's not hiding his agenda.

"Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero nationally for the life [anti-abortion] movement and the starting line back to the Supreme Court," Bertrand said. "I believe this bill will be the vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade." 

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the bill is dangerous and unconstitutional. 

"Tonight, Republicans are pushing their extreme legislation even further by restricting the freedom of Iowa women and girls to care for their bodies and forcing motherhood on Iowa women," Petersen said. 

The Senate passed the bill 27-19 along party lines at 2:20 a.m. 

Exceptions

Several changes have been made to the bill since it passed out of the House Human Resources Committee in March.

The previous version would have banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, except if the mother’s life is in danger. The version that passed out of the full House and Senate also allows abortions in the following cases:

  • When continuing the pregnancy will create serious risk of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
  • If the pregnancy is the result of a rape that is reported within 45 days to a law enforcement or health agency.
  • If the pregnancy is the result of incest that is reported within 140 days (20 weeks), to a law enforcement or health agency.
  • When there is a miscarriage.
  • If a physician finds a fetal abnormality that is incompatible with life.

Some Republicans said they didn’t want these exceptions included, but they still agreed to vote for the bill.

Democrats said the bill is still too strict, and the time limits put on reporting rape and incest could pressure victims into speaking about their abuse before they are ready to do so.

Democrats also said because the bill doesn’t specify civil and criminal immunity for doctors who violate the law, it could open up doctors to criminal prosecution for performing abortions. Rep. Lundgren disagreed and said doctors would be disciplined through rules made by the Board of Medicine.

The bill adds to abortion restrictions passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2017 that included a 20-week abortion ban and a 72-hour waiting period. The waiting period isn’t being enforced while the Iowa Supreme Court considers a legal challenge.