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Twenty-week abortion ban passes Iowa house

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The Iowa state capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

The Iowa house of representatives today passed SF-471, a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in most cases. A version has already passed the senate, and Governor Terry Branstad is expected to sign.

All Johnson and Linn County Republican legislators voted for the bill, and all Democrats voted against. The bill says life begins at conception, but was amended today to clarify that this does not prohibit abortion before 20 weeks, following criticism from Democrats.

Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) introduced amendment H-1257, adding exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomaly or to preserve the health of the mother. Some fetal anomalies are not detected before 20 weeks, so the bill could force women to carry unviable fetuses to term, inflicting physical and psychological trauma, Mascher said.

Mascher quoted statistics from the National Institutes of Health which place the rape-related pregnancy rate at 5% (though only 31% of rapes are reported), with 15% of those victims children under 12, often at the hands of family members. She said 47% of those children get no medical attention during their pregnancy, and 32% don’t find out they are pregnant until at least the second trimester.

“You tell me what father who raped their daughter is going to take them in for medical treatment,” Mascher said. “We don’t live in a perfect world, and young children having children is not a solution.”

Mascher’s amendment failed.

Rep. Amy Nielsen (D-North Liberty) spoke Tuesday in opposition to amendment H-1296, which includes requirements pregnant women view an ultrasound and have the chance to listen to the fetal heartbeat, then wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion. It also requires the state to provide physicians with materials that promote adoption, outline risks of abortion and direct women to agencies that can assist with pregnancy and raising a child.

“Passing this legislation tells the roughly 1.6 million women in the state of Iowa that they are not intelligent enough to make healthcare decisions for themselves,” Nielsen said, and said the legislature dictating which information doctors share with their patients is a slippery slope. The amendment passed.

Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) questioned Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion), vice chair of the appropriations committee, about the potential legal cost to the state if the bill’s constitutionality is challenged. He said 20-week bans have been contested in other states, costing Arizona, Kansas and Texas over $1 million, and asked whether the committee should allocate funds in the budget to cover those costs. Hinson said the bill would save a baby a week and is therefore worth the cost, and that she didn’t want to speak for the chair about how the matter would be handled.

Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) proposed an amendment requiring fathers to pay child support and share medical costs resulting from a pregnancy starting at 20 weeks. She said this is not currently required because our culture recognizes that there is a difference between a child that has been born and a fetus in the womb. Bennett withdrew the amendment.

Even stricter regulations were proposed, but not adopted. Amendment H-1270 by Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Melcher-Dalls) would have banned “abortifacients,” which are defined as anything that induces abortion. By broadening the definition of pregnancy to begin at the moment the egg is fertilized — rather than when it implants on the uterus (the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ definition) — this amendment would have banned virtually all birth control except for condoms and other physical barrier methods. The amendment was withdrawn. An amendment proposed last week banning most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected (usually around six weeks) was also withdrawn.


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