DES MOINES — Senate Republicans on Tuesday approved and sent Gov. Terry Branstad legislation restricting abortions after a sometimes contentious and passionate debate by senators who opposed the changes or who wanted to go further in curbing procedures terminating pregnancies.
Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson joined 29 majority Republicans in passing Senate File 471, which would ban abortions once a pregnancy reaches 20 weeks and establish a three-day waiting period for women seeking any abortion. All 20 Democrats voted against the bill.
The 72-hour wait for women seeking an abortion initially was not eligible for debate when the Senate previously approved S.F. 471 on a 32-17 vote, but the GOP-led House used a procedural move to suspend its rules so the change could be approved and returned to the Senate for consideration.
“This waiting period may save a few lives,” said Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, the bill’s floor manager, in urging his colleagues to accept the House changes and send the bill to the governor for his expected signature.
Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said the House changes take a good, balanced set of existing Iowa laws governing legal abortions in Iowa and “unravels” them with “something drastic.”
The amended Senate bill would allow an abortion after 20 weeks if doctors determine it's necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. However, it did not include exceptions for pregnancies involving fetal anomalies or having resulted from rape or incest.
The House also changed the original Senate bill by removing criminal penalties. It does allow women to seek civil damages against providers who perform illegal abortions or parents whose daughter was a minor at the time of an abortion without parental consent. Another provision allows physicians to be disciplined by the Iowa Board of Medicine if they're found to be in violation of the law.
Jochum said she trusts Iowa women to make their own medical decisions rather than “Big Brother” government interfering.
“These are women who wanted to be pregnant, they wanted this baby and something went terribly wrong,” she said.
“This is not a decision that women willy-nilly make or on an impulse. These are heart-wrenching situations,” Jochum added. “You think we just walk in there on an impulse and try to end a pregnancy? You are dead wrong on that. Dead wrong.”
Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, tried to amend the bill to be even more restrictive to all but ban abortions — a move ruled non-germane to S.F. 471 by Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.
After the ruling, Bertrand admonished his fellow Republicans for having “a Chet Culver moment” by not taking advantage of having GOP control of the Legislature and governorship to “go to the mat” by making a strong pro-life statement similar to when Culver voted a collective bargaining expansion when Democrats controlled the Legislature after the 2006 election.
“I guess this is the life bill that we’re going to get. This is it. This is the vote,” Bertrand said during an impassioned floor speech. “If not now, when?”
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowa has a good system of family planning services and effective contraceptives that are working, and the new 72-hour waiting period would cause delays and added expenses for women in rural areas or who are impoverished.
"It's time for politicians to stop interfering in the health care decisions of women and her trusted advisors and her family. Enough is enough,” Bolkcom said. “This bill takes us in the wrong direction and I urge you to vote no.”
Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, called the three-day waiting period the "timeshare clause" in the bill.
"No one would buy a timeshare if they were able to go home and talk to their friends, talk to the neighbors, pray about it and sleep on it and talk to people they trusted," Chelgren said. "Anyone who wants to get an abortion and has made that decision can do so under this bill...All they have to do is wait 72 hours to make sure that that decision was right because it's an irreversible decision."