DES MOINES — Iowa would ban most abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy under a bill that received preliminary approval Thursday in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The so-called heartbeat bill faces several more legislative votes and its future is uncertain. If the measure becomes law, it likely faces litigation by opponents who argue it violates U.S. Supreme Court rulings that affirm women have a legal right to abortion.
The bill would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The legislation allows for abortions at a later period to save a pregnant woman’s life. A physician who intentionally performs an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected would face a felony, punishable with prison time and a fine of up to $7,500.
Such a ban is not in effect anywhere in the country. Ohio lawmakers have made several attempts to enact such a policy, but Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed the measure when it reached his desk.
A three-person subcommittee in the Iowa Senate held public testimony on the bill before the panel’s two Republicans signed off on the measure. It now heads to a full committee, which is expected to vote next week.
GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly indicated she is anti-abortion. Her press secretary, Brenna Smith, would not comment on the bill but added in an email Thursday the governor “believes in protecting life and has said she will never stop working to protecting the unborn.”
Sen. Amy Sinclair, an Allerton Republican who helped advanced the measure, said she dismisses any notion the bill is “a war on women.”
“It is not health care. It is killing women,” she said. “And that is a war on women.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned the bill would force the University of Iowa to lose accreditation of its residency program in obstetrics and gynecology because it would challenge medical teachings on abortion.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland noted some women don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks of pregnancy.
Leah Vanden Bosch of West Des Moines testified against the bill. She said she’s had an abortion, and the ability to make that decision stopped her from killing herself at a difficult time in her life. She said it was hard to speak publicly about her experience, but felt she had to for other women who may not feel comfortable enough.
“I would not be here if I didn’t have this choice,” Vanden Bosch said to the lawmakers. She added: “I’m praying to the same God that you are right now ... he’s pushing me here to speak to you and show you a different side.”
The Legislature is considering several other bills related to abortion restrictions. That includes a measure that would ban abortion, though that proposal has not been scheduled for a legislative meeting.
Lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a bill that critics argue would deny a pregnant woman access to a medical malpractice claim if her doctor failed to make or disclose a diagnosis related to the pregnancy that may have caused the woman to have an abortion. Another bill, still open for further debate because of the two-year legislative calendar, would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue regardless of whether its use “is for valuable consideration.” The medical community has raised questions about that measure’s impact on research.
The heartbeat legislation comes less than a year after the Legislature banned most abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A provision in the law that required a three-day waiting period on women seeking the procedure is not in effect amid ongoing litigation.