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Iowa lawmakers send 6-week abortion ban to governor

DES MOINES (AP) — Republican legislators sent Iowa’s governor a bill early Wednesday that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, propelling the state overnight to the front of a push among conservative statehouses jockeying to enact the nation’s most restrictive regulations on the procedure.

Critics say the so-called “heartbeat” bill, which now awaits the signature of anti-abortion GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, would ban abortions before some women even know they’re pregnant. That could set up the state for a legal challenge over its constitutionality, including from the same federal appeals court that three years ago struck down similar legislation approved in Arkansas and North Dakota.

Backers of the legislation, which failed to get a single Democratic vote in either Iowa chamber, expressed hope it could challenge Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established women have a right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable. Conservatives say an influx of right-leaning judicial appointments under President Donald Trump could make it a possibility.

“Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero, now nationally, in the life movement,” Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, said during floor debate.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement Iowa Republicans “do not care how much taxpayer money will be spent on a lawsuit ... or how many families may choose to go elsewhere because Iowa is no longer a state where they are safe to live and work.”

The House began debate over the measure early Tuesday afternoon, voting it out shortly before midnight with six Republicans there opposing it. The Senate then picked it up, with approval shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday. The nearly back-to-back votes come as Iowa lawmakers are on overtime at the state Capitol, trying to pass a spending budget and tax cuts later this week.

Reynolds declined Wednesday to say whether she’ll sign the bill into law. She did note: “I’m pro-life. I’m proud to be pro-life. I’ve made that very clear.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller told reporters Wednesday he’s reviewing whether his office would defend the bill if signed into law, acknowledging his staff is reviewing its constitutionality.

Several states have attempted to advance abortion bans in recent years. Mississippi passed a law earlier this year banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s on hold after a court challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear similar heartbeat bills North Dakota and Arkansas approved in 2013, after they were rejected by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A federal court challenge would likely make its way to that appeals court, which has become increasingly conservative during Donald Trump’s administration. Of the 11 active judges on the court, only one Democratic appointment remains.

The court begrudgingly rejected as unconstitutional the heartbeat bills from North Dakota and Arkansas. In both cases the appeals court judges made it clear they were only striking down the laws because the U.S. Supreme Court precedent bound them to do so.

The Iowa legislation contains some exemptions, including allowing abortions after a detectable heartbeat to save a pregnant woman’s life or in some cases of rape and incest. Another provision prohibits some uses of fetal tissue, with exemptions for research. A woman would have to report a rape within 45 days to law enforcement or a physician to qualify for an exemption to the abortion ban. Incest must be reported within 140 days to receive an exemption.

The bill provides immunity to women receiving abortions but not to doctors who perform them. Their licenses could be revoked for violations, and prosecutors could consider criminal charges against them. That’s not addressed by the bill, a point Democrats criticized.

Iowa Republicans have long sought to approve legislation that would further restrict abortion, and their flip of the state Senate chamber in the 2016 election gave them a trifecta of GOP power for the first time in nearly 20 years. Last session, they passed a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is in effect.

A provision in that legislation requiring a three-day waiting period for abortions — among the longest wait periods in the country — was challenged in court. It remains on hold amid litigation being considered by the state Supreme Court.

Iowa Republicans have indicated the 20-week ban was just the start toward the legislation finalized Wednesday.

“A baby has become something we can throw away. This bill says it’s time to change the way we think about unborn life,” said Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Janesville Republican.

Woman accused of damaging Dawson Street home before fatal fire

WATERLOO – A hearing has been postponed for a Waterloo woman accused of breaking a court order by going to a Waterloo home the night before a deadly fire.

Denise Susanna O’Brien isn’t charged in connection with the blaze. The 41-year-old Waterloo woman is charged with violating a no-contact order keeping her from going to the home of Ashley Smith.

Authorities said O’Brien had been outside Smith’s home at 536 Dawson St. on the night of April 21 and confronted Willie Phillips and another woman outside, and the encounter turned physical between the three, according to court records.

O’Brien then left.

Photos: Fatal Dawson Street fire

At 6:30 a.m. the following day, firefighters were called to a blaze at the home. Phillips and two others escaped the home by crawling through a second-story window. Smith and her son, 9-year-old Jaykwon Sallis, died in the blaze.

The fire is referenced in court documents charging O’Brien with violating the no-contact order. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to authorities.

O’Brien was to appear in court on Wednesday for a hearing on the restraining order, but she waived a deadline in the matter, meaning the hearing will be scheduled for another day.

Court records show a judge ordered O’Brien to stay away from Smith on April 13, shortly after she was arrested for allegedly breaking out a window and knocking over a 48-inch TV at the Dawson Street home at about 5:53 a.m. that day. In that case, a witness reported seeing O’Brien yelling on the front porch before breaking the window.

Supreme Court won't hear Fairbank wind turbine appeal; residents win

FAIRBANK — The Iowa Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a wind energy company previously told to remove three turbines near Fairbank.

The order handed down Tuesday is another victory for the surrounding property owners and the city, which sued the company and Fayette County claiming the turbines just east of city limits violated county zoning laws.

It leaves in place District Court Judge John Bauercamper’s ruling that Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables must take down the three 445-foot turbines they built in 2016 for an estimated $11 million.

Administrators of a Facebook page set up in opposition to the turbine project were quick to praise the Supreme Court’s decision.

“This is the end of the line in the appeals process and reaffirms our original argument that these industrial wind turbines were installed illegally,” said the post Tuesday on Fairbank Citizens Against Industrial Wind Turbines Near Our City.

“Obviously this is great news to the citizens of Fairbank, as our city, skyline and quality of life will be restored to its previous state soon,” the post continued.

Attorneys representing Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables declined to comment.

The legal issue centered around the vintage 1973 county zoning ordinance, which lacked specific language to govern the construction and location of modern industrial-scale wind turbines.

County zoning officials defined the towers as “electric and gas transmission and regulating facilities” that did not require a special permit from the board of adjustment.

The city of Fairbank and several property owners immediately sued the county and developers claiming the zoning interpretation was incorrect.

The court had allowed Mason Wind to continue building and operating the turbines after company attorneys said they understood the risk of proceeding while the case was pending.

The turbines were operational when Bauercamper in late 2016 ruled they were actually electrical generating devices that did require approval from the board of adjustment.

The turbines remained operational while Bauercamper’s ruling to remove them worked through the appeals process.

Patrick Dillon, an attorney who represented the private property owners challenging the project, said his clients were happy with the outcome.

“Adoption of ordinances to reflect the change in use, with citizen input, is better than trying to shoehorn in new uses in an existing zoning plan,” Dillon said. “We look forward to quick compliance with the district court’s order.”

Meanwhile, the Fayette County Board of Supervisors has changed its zoning ordinance to avoid similar confusion in the future.

The new ordinance, among other things, requires any commercial wind energy project to get approval from the Board of Supervisors; to be at least three times the tower height or 1,500 feet from any occupied building; and does not allow construction within one mile of an incorporated city without that city’s written permission.

Suspect in former Cedar Falls woman's murder had been investigated in another fire


CEDAR RAPIDS — A man accused of killing a former Cedar Falls woman whose body was found in her burning garage Sunday had been investigated in another home burglary and fire last fall, according to court records.

Cedar Rapids police Tuesday arrested Timothy Wesley Evans, 38, of Cedar Rapids, for first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree arson in the death of Gina Frederiksen, 38. His bond was set at $2 million.

Authorities responding to a fire and explosion at Frederiksen‘s home on I Street Southwest at 7:35 a.m. Sunday found her body in the doorway to the burning garage. She was later pronounced dead.

Police allege Evans was burglarizing the garage and then killed Frederiksen. He allegedly told two people about killing her and said he set the fire to destroy evidence, according to court records.

Evans was also arrested for attempted burglary for allegedly trying to enter a home four blocks away on Haven Court two hours before the fire. A surveillance camera captured him approaching the back door, court records indicate.

Months before the Frederiksen’s slaying — in November 2017 — Cedar Rapids authorities were called to a fire that damaged another home. Officers found a sliding glass door had been broken out, and the house had been ransacked before someone set a fire in the middle of the living room using gasoline.

Missing from the house was a TV, sound system and dishes, and authorities found a fresh cigarette butt at the scene. The butt was submitted to the state crime lab for testing, and in February analysts found DNA that had Evans as a potential donor, court records state.

Police obtained a search warrant to get a DNA sample from Evans for further comparison, and a sample was collected on Feb. 27, court records indicate.

Evans wasn’t arrested in connection with the fire, but on April 18, he was detained on theft and burglary charges after he was allegedly seen taking items from a vehicle parked on Terrazzo Drive in Cedar Rapids. He was released from jail pending trial.