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Update: Bill to Ban Abortions After Fetal Heartbeat is Detected Moves to Senate Floor

fetal heartbeat subcommittee
Katarina Sostaric
Senators Amy Sinclair, Jason Schultz and Janet Petersen hold a subcommittee meeting on a fetal heartbeat abortion bill Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Updated Monday, Feb. 12, 2018:

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a fetal heartbeat abortion bill Monday, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against it. The bill can now be taken up for a vote by the full Iowa Senate.  

Original post from Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018:

A fetal heartbeat bill that would effectively ban almost all abortions advanced in the Iowa Senate Thursday after an hour of public testimony from people on both sides of the issue.

The bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected by an abdominal ultrasound, except when there is a medical emergency. That can be as early as six weeks in, when many women still don’t know they are pregnant. A doctor who breaks this law could be charged with a felony and face up to five years in prison.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chaired the three-member subcommittee. She says hearing her own son’s heartbeat when she was pregnant made her realize he was alive.

“We are passing a bill that identifies what we all intrinsically know to be true: that these are human beings with the same rights,” Sinclair says. “We have the responsibility to offer them the same liberty and the same care that you and I have.”

Sinclair and Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, voted to advance the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen opposed the bill. She says it is dangerous and unconstitutional.

“This bill will be a devastating blow to women’s health care across the state for all women and girls who want to take care of their bodies and ensure they have access to the best medical care for their reproductive health,” Petersen says.

Sandra Conlin from the Iowa Medical Society says her organization doesn’t take a position on abortion, but it is opposed to the fetal heartbeat bill. Conlin says it puts the University of Iowa’s obstetrics and gynecology residency program—the only one in the state—at risk.

“The accreditation council for graduate medical education would very likely remove our OB-GYN training program from the University of Iowa if this were to become law, because while they also do not have a position on abortion, they do require there to be an option for residents to receive that training,” Conlin says.

She adds this would also affect training programs for doctors who treat gynecological cancers and deal with high-risk pregnancies.

Sen. Petersen says this would result in fewer women’s health care providers across the state.

Dr. Lisa Banitt told the subcommittee being able to detect a fetal heartbeat by abdominal ultrasound depends on the anatomy of individual patients and the ultrasound equipment.

“So not every woman is going to have the same gestational age at which the heartbeat can be detected,” Dr. Banitt says. “Therefore, this is not going to be applied equally to all women.”

If passed, this bill would make the state a target for lawsuits over the constitutionality of restricting access to abortions.

In 2017, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature banned most abortions after 20 weeks and instituted a three-day waiting period. The waiting period is not being enforced while the Iowa Supreme Court decides if it is constitutional. Lawmakers also diverted funding from facilities that provide abortions, which led to the closure of four of Iowa’s 12 Planned Parenthood clinics.

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, says his organization supports the intent of the bill but will remain neutral.

“We should take into account that this bill is likely to be found unconstitutional,” Chapman says. “We should consider the unintended long term consequences that could result from our court finding a robust right to an abortion in our state constitution, which could result in the elimination of some of our current limitations we already have in Iowa.”

Sioux City Republican Sen. Rick Bertrand said he’s a practicing Catholic and is very disappointed.

“I am calling this out: if you’re neutral, you’re against the bill,” Bertrand says. “So again, I expect this to be revisited within our Catholic community and to either be opposed or supportive.”

In a later news release, Bertrand said, “Registering neutral is cowardice.”