Iowa’s Republican-led legislature passed a bill banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy following a lengthy special session ending late Tuesday night, a divisive move that is likely to face legal challenges once signed into law and will add the state to a growing number of right-leaning states to severely curtail reproductive rights after the Supreme Court voted to overturn the constitutional right to abortion last year.
The bill was passed in a protracted special legislative session called by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) to “address the issue of abortion expeditiously” after the state’s Supreme Court reached a deadlock in June and declined to reinstate a similar law she signed in 2018.
The measure, which passed just after 11 p.m. and mostly along party lines, outlaws most abortions after cardiac activity can be detected, which usually happens around six weeks of pregnancy, well before many people are aware they are pregnant and weeks before an actual heart will develop or the embryo is even considered a fetus.
The law had limited exceptions for rape and incest, provided these are reported to law enforcement or health providers within a set time limit, as well as miscarriage, medical emergencies that endanger the life of the pregnant person and fetal abnormalities that are “incompatible with life.”
The law does not, however, make exceptions considering the age of the pregnant person or any mental health condition.
Democrats unsuccessfully pushed for the bill to make the bill less restrictive, including proposing amendments to grant exemptions to children 12 years and under.
What To Watch For
If not blocked by a court, the law will go into effect immediately upon being signed by Reynolds, who has indicated she will do so on Friday. “Justice for the unborn should not be delayed,” Reynolds said. Abortion is currently legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy and the move will likely throw the state’s reproductive healthcare system into disarray as scheduled appointments are canceled and abortion clinics and other healthcare providers consider how best to care for patients given the new restrictions. This could spill over into other states as well, as patients travel to seek care they can no longer obtain in Iowa.
What We Don’t Know
Legal challenges are almost a certainty once the bill is signed into law, though it’s not clear what these would be able to accomplish or on what timescale. Groups like the ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic told the Associated Press they’re already preparing to fight “this reckless, cruel law.”
Iowa is now set to join a number of conservative-leaning states that have virtually outlawed abortion since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade last year and overturned the constitutional right to abortion it codified. Efforts to institute such a law in Iowa predate that decision and Reynolds signed a very similar bill into law in 2018. That law was blocked by lower courts, which became permanent when the Supreme Court reached a deadlock on overturning the decision. Most clinicians and top medical societies roundly condemn recent efforts to curtail abortion access as motivated by shoddy science and as bad for healthcare. The procedure is viewed as a vital and necessary component of reproductive healthcare that reaches beyond abortion itself, impacting the training of specialized clinicians and restricting access to lifesaving medicines with multiple uses. Laws like Iowa’s are also criticized as unscientific and for their use of faux medical terminology to lend support to the arguments put forward. “Heartbeat bills,” as they are often called, often deploy medical terms like “fetal heartbeat” to justify the early time limit set for abortion and tap emotions, not critical thought. The term is not a recognized medical phrase nor does it reference an actual heartbeat, as it will still be weeks before the embryo is even considered a fetus and more still before it has developed a heart.
What you need to know about Iowa’s impending abortion ban (Washington Post)