Iowa Lawmakers Discuss Fetal Heartbeat Law in Wake of Legal Challenge

Jun 12, 2018

A new Iowa law banning physicians from performing most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is being called the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer discusses the law with three state lawmakers who each have very different views, including a Democrat against the change, a Republican who voted for it, and a Republican who was one of six in his party who felt he couldn’t support the law.

“The more I studied the bill, the more I felt it went just a little too far,” says Rep. Lee Hein (R), of Monticello. “I firmly believe that life begins at conception, but I also believe that it is a moral, a religious, and most of all, a family decision; and I believe that government should stay out of that decision making process.” 

IPR reporter Katarina Sostaric, Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R) of Peosta, and Rep. Amy Nielsen (D) of North Liberty, also join the conversation.

“We’re a pro-life district here in rural Dubuque County,” says Lundgren. “[There are] a lot of Catholic families and churches out here, and so it was important to stand up and honestly speak for those children that don’t have a voice to speak for themselves.”

Later in the hour, Leslie Reagan, author of When Abortion was a Crime, gives a sense of what life was like in America before Roe v. Wade, the decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. While it’s unlikely that Iowa’s new law will be the case that overturns Roe v Wade at the federal level, supporters of the law hope that it will.

Reagan says that historical evidence shows that laws restricting or banning abortion do not stop the practice of abortion. She says that what it will do is create “a bureaucracy that will specifically monitor what women are doing, and monitor their bodies, and monitor physicians and health personnel that are taking care of them.”

An example she gives is that starting in the 1900s up until 1973, women who visited emergency rooms for substandard abortions or miscarriages were interrogated by law enforcement.

“In terms of enforcing the law, women were not prosecuted for having abortions, very few. Mostly they prosecuted practitioners, but they also interrogated women in hospitals. They got doctors to call in police or ask them themselves. They threatened to arrest them,” she says.

“And this actually propelled some women into becoming very active in the movement to legalize [abortion] …because of what happened to them when they had a miscarriage.”

Reagan is a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.