After more than six hours of sometimes bitter debate extending over two days the Iowa House last night approved a bill which, if it becomes law, would include the most extensive abortion restrictions ever approved in Iowa.
The bill bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and enacts a 72 hour waiting period for all abortions.
House Republicans could not reach consensus on a bill banning all abortions, or another banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The bill’s manager explains the rationale for the 20-week ban.
“The reason for this bill is there is a significant scientific proof that supports a baby can feel pain at five months of pregnancy and maybe even earlier,” said Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Peosta.)
Anti-abortion legislators and activists call the bill a monumental piece of legislation that protects life.
Critics call it dangerous and callous.
“This extreme abortion ban would prohibit all abortions after 20 weeks with only narrow exceptions for the woman’s life and dire health circumstances,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames). “There are no exceptions for fetal anomaly or other health risks, or for cases of rape or incest.”
Opponents also questioned the claim that a 20 week fetus feels pain.
Legislators on both sides of the debate told personal stories of women faced with extremely troubled pregnancies, sometimes involving severe fetal anomalies.
Rep. Scott Ourth (D-Ackworth) became angry at the bill’s supporters when he imagined his wife being forced to bring such a fetus to term.
“You are wholly unqualified to tell me how to do that," Ourth said. "It’s none of your business what my wife and I do if we have a child.”
The bill will have to be reconciled with the version passed by the Senate, which included an exception for fetal anomalies.
The bill’s manager defends the House version of the bill.
“It's beyond my comprehension why we would end a life because it’s not perfect,” Lundgren said, “or because his or her chance of survival is low.”
One of the younger members of the House also imagined herself facing such a decision.
“I’m one of a handful of us in this legislative body that this could actually affect one day,” said Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque), fighting back tears. “I don’t know if I would make that choice but I have the right to make that choice.”
Twenty-week abortion bans have been thrown out by the courts in other states.
Backers said a child’s life is worth the cost of a lawsuit. Others said a court challenge is not guaranteed.
“We heard from Rep. Isenhart (Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque) how expensive it's going to be to defend the law that hopefully we pass,” said Rep. Dawn Pettengill (R-Mount Auburn). “Well, maybe we can get your friends not to challenge the law and that way we wouldn’t have a cost.”
The Senate will also have to decide whether to go along with the House decision to require a 72-hour waiting period for all abortions, and the mandatory viewing of an ultrasound of the fetus. The bill also requires doctors to give a woman the option of listening to the fetal heartbeat if one is detected.
"I stand with that because seeing is believing," said Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Dallas-Melcher).
Democrats argued that interferes with a private decision between a woman and her doctor.
Rep. Bob Kressig (D-Cedar Falls) asked Rep. Lundgren if she received input from a physician before drafting the bill.
“No I did not reach out to a physician because this is about the life of the baby,” Lundgren answered.
“Then how did you decide the content of the bill?” Kressig asked. “We’re talking about a medical procedure, right?”
“Right,” Lundgren replied, “and the doctor has the discretion to take care of the life and health of the mother.”
The bill initially included language declaring that life begins at conception, a position favored by many lawmakers and their constituents.
That language was removed.
Some backers say they will still confidently go back to their districts and defend the more limited 20-week ban.
“I can tell you when I go back home I will be able to say to my constituents that we have advanced protection for the unborn,” said Rep. Joel Fry (R-Osceola), “and that we believe that all unborn life is sacred.
Democrats united against the bill. Only one Republican, Rep. David Maxwell of Gibson opposed it.