DES MOINES — Legislation that would make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected won initial support Thursday after emotional and pointed testimony.
“Killing is not health care,” said subcommittee member Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who supported forwarding the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill is viewed as a vehicle to overturn the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Senate Study Bill 3143 would bar a physician from performing an abortion when tests determine a heartbeat is present unless a medical emergency exists that warrants the procedure.
Violation of the bill’s provisions would subject a doctor to a Class D felony charge carrying a five-year prison term but with no penalty for the woman.
Proponents said the measure would protect the sanctity of life, while critics argued it was an unconstitutional encroachment on informed medical decisions that should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor without fear of government interference.
“This bill is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said subcommittee member Sen. Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat who is Senate minority leader.
“This bill doesn’t just go after women,” she said. “It goes after doctors, it goes after girls, it goes after moms, it goes after grandmas, it goes after Iowa families. This bill will impact every Iowan who gets their period and every woman who doesn’t get their period. It is a direct attack on women’s health care across our state.”
However, subcommittee chairwoman, Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, in refuting the bill was a “war on women,” argued the legislation would reduce deaths of Iowa women associated with abortion procedures.
“These are human beings," Sinclair said, referring to a fetus. "We have the responsibility to offer them the same liberty and the same rights that you and I have."
The bill advanced on a 2-1 party line vote.
Leah Vanden Bosch was among the speakers giving emotional testimony, telling the panel she likely would have killed herself if she hadn’t had an abortion.
“If you passed this bill and this was in effect when I got pregnant, I would not be sitting here today because I know I would have taken my own life,” she said. “So, if you are so concerned with life, think about the life of these women, I’m praying to the same God that you are this morning.”
Jamie Burch of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the bill “intentionally goes too far” and “inserts the government into the personal lives of Iowa women.”
“The motivation behind this bill is clear: to create a vehicle to challenge Roe v Wade,” Burch said. “If this bill passes and is signed into law by our governor, it will open the door to endless litigation.”
Dr. Lisa Banitt expressed misgivings about the bill, saying a fetal heartbeat may be detected as early as four weeks into a pregnancy, but situations differ among women and doctors may be at the mercy of aging ultrasound equipment and other factors that make criminal consequences problematic.
Petersen and others warned the state’s only training program on abortion — at the University of Iowa for OB/GYN doctors — likely would be shut down if the bill becomes law.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told lawmakers the church believes life begins at conception but is “neutral” on the bill because it is “likely unconstitutional.”
“We should consider the unintended, long-term consequences that could result from our court finding a robust right to an abortion in our state Constitution, which could result in the elimination of some of the limitations we already have in Iowa,” he said.
Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, said in a statement that getting the issue back into the judicial system is “exactly what this bill is designed to do — challenge the courts, and start the process to take down Roe v. Wade. The time is now to go on offense, do the right thing, and lead.”
Bertrand said he was disappointed, as a practicing Catholic, with the Catholic conference’s stance and recommended the state’s four Catholic bishops rethink their position on the bill.
“Registering neutral is cowardice, and I believe does not represent what an everyday Catholic parishioner believes,” Bertrand said in the statement. “The defense of life is one of our core Catholic beliefs, and I believe that the bishops need to explain to their parishioners on Sunday why they have taken this position.”