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Iowa Democrats highlight support for abortion rights ahead of 'fetal heartbeat' court hearing

Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear speaks at a news conference
Katarina Sostaric
IPR News
Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear speaks at a news conference highlighting Democrats' support for abortion rights Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022 in Des Moines.

Iowa Democrats called attention to their support for abortion rights at a news conference Thursday, one day before a scheduled court hearing on Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion law and less than two weeks before Election Day.

They’re urging Iowans to vote for Democrats to try to block the passage of more restrictive abortion laws. Abortion is currently legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking the Polk County District Court to reinstate a law she signed that would ban most abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, with exceptions. That can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

“I want people to understand that she is responsible for where we are in these moments,” said Deidre DeJear, the Democrat challenging Reynolds in the governor’s race. “The fact that she is pushing legislation that doesn’t lift Iowans up, the fact that she’s pushing legislation that doesn’t add values to our communities, but causes harm.”

The first hearing in that case is scheduled for Friday. The judge could decide to let the law take effect, or keep the injunction in place. Either way, Republican lawmakers can pass new abortion laws when the legislative session starts in January if they keep control of the legislature and the governor’s office.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said abortion is on the ballot.

“It is critically important not because of an abstraction, but because of real women’s lives,” Konfrst said. “So it’s critically important that the governor doesn’t get her way.”

Clara, a nurse from Iowa City, shared her story of severe pregnancy complications at the Democrats’ news conference Thursday. She only wanted to provide her first name.

Clara said an infection during a pregnancy nearly killed her, and her son died shortly after being delivered via emergency C-section 5-and-a-half months into her pregnancy. She said her doctor told her any future pregnancies would put her life at risk.

“If I became pregnant tomorrow, I would require an abortion in order to safeguard my life,” Clara said. “Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed abortion ban legislation would make that impossible.”

The“fetal heartbeat” law being considered in court Friday includes exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities that are incompatible with life, and for medical emergencies. Thelaw says a medical emergency is “a situation in which an abortion is performed to preserve the life of the pregnant woman” or when there is “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”

Clara questioned if people want their doctors to hesitate to make that decision in an emergency.

“Anything that can prolong that decision, or create legal turmoil that you have to get approval in some way, could just mean that you run out of time,” she said.

And Democratic leaders said that if Republicans win state-level elections, they will ban abortion without exceptions.

Reynolds has been asked by reporters if she wants future abortion restrictions to have exceptions, and Reynolds has not answered that question. Her campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Medical experts have said the term “fetal heartbeat” can be misleading in the case of these abortion laws. The pregnancy is still considered an embryo six weeks after the pregnant person’s last period, not a fetus, and the heart is not yet fully developed at that point in time. Cardiac activity can be detected before the heart is formed.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter