The Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate passed a bill containing the most aggressive restriction on abortion in the nation during sessions that started Tuesday night and lasted into the early hours of Wednesday. SF 359 would ban almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which typically happens less than two months into pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant.
Every Democrat in both chambers of the legislature voted against SF 359, the so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” by its supporters.
“My God, doesn’t it feel good when Republicans vote like Republicans?” Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, said after the Senate passed the bill. “…My friends, today we will make history. Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero now, nationally, in the life movement and the starting line back to the Supreme Court.”
Last year, Bertrand introduced an amendment to an anti-abortion bill that would have outlawed any abortion that occurs more than one week after an ovum is fertilized. That amendment was voted down by the Senate.
The bill now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has not taken a public position on it. Reynolds does describe herself as anti-abortion and in an interview with the Carroll Daily Herald in 2010, when she was running for lieutenant governor for the first time, she called abortion “equivalent to murder.”
Although the bill does declare that almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected are illegal it doesn’t spell out what the penalty for violating the law would be. It directs the state board of medicine to create rules to administer the law.
During her interview with the Herald, Reynolds was asked what the punishment should be if abortion is “equivalent to murder.” She replied, “I don’t know if it needs to be the death penalty. Is that what you’re asking me?” Reynolds then declined to give a firm answer.
The original Senate version of the bill did not include exceptions for rape or incest, and while the House added those exceptions, what was added contains severe restrictions.
A woman who is raped must report the rape “to a law enforcement agency, a public or private health agency or a family physician within 45 days.” A victim of incest must report her sexual abuse to at least one of the same set of authorities within 140 days.
During the House debate on Tuesday night, Democratic Rep. Mary Wolfe of Des Moines said, “That is a good message to be sending to the children of Iowa that, you know what, if you’re scared and you don’t know what to do and you finally get the guts to go to your mom or your dad and tell them what happened but it’s 50 days after you were raped instead of 45, you’re stuck with that baby because the Iowa Legislature decided you needed to accept responsibility for coming forward.”
The bill will certainly be challenged in court as a violation of women’s constitutional rights, and the bill’s supporters hope that challenge will result in the U.S. Supreme Court not just upholding SF 359, but going further and overturning 45 years of legal precedents to declare a woman’s right to choose an abortion is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“This law, if signed, I believe could very well be the very bill that overturns Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel.
Rep. Amy Nielsen of North Liberty was among the Democrats who strongly argued against passage of the bill last night. “I and every woman in this state deserves to have someone stand up for them and say: ‘Your choice is worth saving,’” Nielsen said during the floor debate.
Anyone who watched the House debate online would have noticed that House chamber camera was deliberately repositioned to show Nielsen from the neck up. As Nielsen explained on Twitter, that’s because she was wearing a Raygun t-shirt that said: “The GOP: Creating government small enough to fit inside your vagina.”
— Amy Nielsen (@RepAmyNielsen) May 2, 2018
Iowa already has one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country. Last year, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill banning almost all abortions in Iowa after 20 weeks.