Four Abortion-Related Bills Advance In Iowa Legislature

Feb 18, 2020

Republicans on an Iowa Senate panel advanced a bill Tuesday that would add requirements around providing an ultrasound before an abortion, and that requires a three-day waiting period between the ultrasound and the abortion.

There is already a 72-hour waiting period under Iowa law, but the Iowa Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional in 2018 and blocked it from taking effect.

IPR asked Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, why he is proposing a law that has been declared unconstitutional in the state.

“First of all, we got a new court,” Zaun said. “And I believe in this bill, and I can file any bill that I want.”

Four of the five justices who agreed the waiting period was unconstitutional will be off the court by the end of March. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has appointed three justices to the court in recent years and will soon get a fourth choice.

Supporters of Zaun’s bill said it will ensure women are fully informed before getting an abortion.

Ultrasounds are already required under Iowa law prior to proceeding with an abortion procedure.

But Zaun’s bill would require ultrasound technicians to display ultrasound images to the pregnant person while describing the images and listing specific details about the fetus. And it requires the tech to make it possible for the pregnant person to hear any fetal cardiac activity.

The bill would allow women to look away from the images and ask for the sound of cardiac activity to be turned off.

Opponents point to studies showing people who get abortions are typically very sure about their decision, and that waiting periods very rarely lead people to change their minds about abortion.

Laura Hessburg with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence said it would just put up more barriers to abortion access, especially for women in abusive relationships.

“Of course we want women to have information,” Hessburg said. “What we’re saying is women don’t show up without being informed, any more than any of you show up for a medical procedure without being informed. Doctors also go through medical training. They don’t need legislators to script what they should say.”

Additional licensing requirements for abortion facilities

A bill creating licensing requirements for abortion facilities advanced through a House subcommittee and full committee Tuesday.

Several states have mandated additional licensing for facilities that provide abortions, some with specific requirements for hallway width, procedure room size, and hospital admitting privileges for clinic physicians. Some of those requirements have led to clinics closing.

The bill that advanced at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday is not quite that specific. It says the Department of Inspections and Appeals would be responsible for establishing licensing standards through administrative rules and for inspecting the facilities annually prior to license renewal. Facilities would have to pay $2,000 for the license.

Under the bill, facilities that offer abortion services must have at least one licensed physician on staff. And the DIA’s licensing rules must cover safety and sanitation, procedure rooms, staff qualifications, infection control and other categories.

“I think if we don’t address the safety of the facility, that we’re actually hurting women,” said Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jamie Burch Elliott said she is not yet sure exactly how the bill would affect providers.

“Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are already following a whole host of federal regulations, and really, abortion care is one of the most regulated health care procedures that exists,” Burch Elliott said. “It’s clear to me that these restrictions are purely political in nature…and not really intended to protect patients.”

She added health care providers who work at Planned Parenthood are licensed just like all other providers in the state.

Rep. Holly Brink, R-Oskaloosa, said abortion providers aren’t being singled out because lawmakers are also considering new regulations for surgical centers.

Planned Parenthood clinics provide procedures, not surgeries.

Other related legislation

Republicans on the House Human Resources Committee approved a bill that would require abortion providers to inform patients that it “may be possible to reverse” a medication abortion. There is not enough reliable evidence to support the treatment.

Republicans on that committee also approved a bill that would require women who have a miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth to choose burial or cremation for the fetal remains, and to get a fetal death certificate for pregnancies that end after 12 weeks. Current law requires fetal death certificates starting at 20 weeks.

All Democrats on the committee voted against both bills.

The passage of the three House abortion-related bills Tuesday means they will remain eligible for debate after this week’s legislative deadline for bills to be approved by committees.