For abortion advocates, a bill making its way through the Iowa Legislature has become more worrying.
The Senate this week once again is expected to debate Senate File 471, a bill that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but this time, the legislation also will include an amendment that would enact a 72-hour waiting period before any abortion and require physicians to perform an ultrasound as well as offer the woman the ability to listen to the heartbeat, a description of the baby and counseling.
“The basic right to life should belong to every single human being,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, during debate of the bill earlier this month. It passed the House on a 55-42 vote. “Unborn lives matter, that’s why this legislation matters.”
Eleven children on average are aborted every day in Iowa, he said, adding the legislation could prevent an estimated 51 abortions each year.
But Planned Parenthood of the Heartland argues the legislation puts an “undue burden” on women, forcing them to return to a health center unnecessarily.
“In addition, the bill requires biased counseling that lacks scientific foundation and shames a woman making a deeply personal, private, safe and legal health decision,” the women’s health care organization said in a statement. “(We) will continue to fight for women’s rights to make their own health care decisions.”
Twenty-seven other states already have enacted waiting periods, according to information from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health care policy and research organization, although Iowa joins only a handful of states that have extended that time frame to three days.
Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah require a 72-hour waiting period. Another 19 require 24 hours, and three require 48 hours.
Elizabeth Nash, senior state issue manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said the length of the waiting period does not necessarily have that much of an effect; nearly 90 percent of women have made up their minds before they go to get an abortion, according to a Guttmacher study. However, the waiting period itself adds logistical difficulties, she said.
“It’s not just the waiting period that’s the issue here,” she said. “It’s all the logistical factors of getting to the abortion clinic.”
Waiting periods mean women now will have to make two trips to the clinic timed very close together, she said, and if the clinic performs abortions only on certain days of the week, the waiting period could push the procedure into the next week entirely.
What’s more, women now might have to take more time off work, coordinate twice the amount of transportation if they don’t drive and pay for child care, she said. If the clinic they are traveling to is a good distance away, that adds even more barriers.
“I think it’s also true that the burdens of an abortion restriction fall on women who are younger and poorer more than they do on older women who are more financially secure,” Nash said. “They don’t have the same resources.”
In Iowa, women 15 to 29 years old accounted for more than 3,000 of the 4,400 abortions performed in 2013, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and more than 3,600 were unmarried. National data from Guttmacher estimates that nearly half the women who obtain abortions live below the federal poverty level.
“This bill is going to reshape abortion access in the whole state,” Nash said. “It will fundamentally change how abortion is accessed in Iowa, and not for the better.”