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Iowa Republican House Lawmakers Advance Abortion-Related Bills

Katarina Sostaric
Lawmakers listen to testimony on a bill related to fetal remains at the Iowa Capitol Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Republican lawmakers on a House panel advanced a bill Thursday that would require abortion providers to inform patients that it “may be possible to reverse” a medication abortion, though there isn’t enough reliable scientific evidence to support the practice, and some evidence suggests it could cause harm.

The bill would also require the Iowa Department of Public Health to state on its website that it may be possible to reverse a medication abortion.

Some abortion rights opponents claim that if a pregnant person changes their mind after taking the first of two drugs in the medication abortion regimen, they can refuse to take the second drug and be treated with the hormone progesterone instead to continue the pregnancy.

“It doesn’t limit abortion clinics from administering medication abortion, and it doesn’t pressure women into using the drug to stop the abortion procedure,” said Maggie DeWitte, the executive director of Iowans for Life. “The bill simply requires that women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy, that there is another choice available.”

One group of researchers claimed it worked for a small number of women, but a lot of questions were raised about the case series’ methodology and conclusions. It didn’t involve a control group, and it didn’t have the standard oversight required to protect human research subjects.

So researchers at the University of California, Davis, began a study last year with 12 women to test the concept. They cut it short when three of the women were taken by ambulance to hospitals because of severe bleeding.

The researchers decided it was too risky to continue the study, and said the approach should be considered experimental, not a proven treatment.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jamie Burch Elliott said the bill would require doctors to provide misinformation to patients.

“By suggesting there is a way to reverse the medication abortion, our physicians would be undermining the informed consent process, which should instead stress to patients that they must be certain before proceeding with the first step of the medication abortion process,” Burch Elliott said.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states medication abortion reversal is not supported by science.

Medication abortion itself is supported by evidence as a safe and effective way to end a pregnancy when patients take both prescribed drugs as directed.

Still, eight states have passed similar laws, two of which have been held up in the courts.

Bill would change requirements for fetal remains

Women who have a miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth would be required to choose burial or cremation for the fetal remains under a bill that also advanced Thursday in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Some supporters said it is a response to the discovery of about 2,400 fetuses found at the Illinois home of an abortion provider who primarily worked in Indiana. A mass burial for the remains was held Wednesday in Indiana.

And Tom Chapman, a lobbyist for Iowa’s Catholic bishops, said he has heard from some women who didn’t like how the remains of their pregnancies were handled.

“Whether people oppose or support abortion, I think the least we can do is ensure that all human remains, including the bodily remains of all unborn children, are treated with dignity and respect,” Chapman said.

The bill would also require a death certificate for pregnancies that end after 12 weeks, changing it from the current law of 20 weeks. A fetal death certificate requires a name, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Independent Physician Group lobbyist Karla Fultz McHenry said obstetricians worry about the potential impact on their patients, who would have to name fetal remains and decide what to do with them during a difficult time.

She also talked about her own experience with miscarriage.

“This is offensive, actually,” Fultz McHenry said. “I don’t think I want a stack of death certificates sitting in my drawer that I can look back on and think about those pregnancies. I think about them all the time.”

A lobbyist associated with the state’s largest hospital network said they already have a policy of discussing options with women whose pregnancies are terminated, and they keep the remains for a month in case they change their mind.

The ACLU also raised concerns that changing the term “fetus” in the current law to “bodily remains” is a step toward legally defining life as beginning at conception, something the Republican chair of the subcommittee admitted to.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter