DES MOINES — Legislation that would make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected won Senate approval Wednesday as a first step toward what many see as a legal battle aimed at overturning the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Senators approved Senate File 2281 by a 30-20 margin with Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson joining 29 majority Republicans in passing the measure and sending it to the Iowa House where Republicans hold a 59-41 majority and have a similar measure moving through the process.
“This bill is the logical beginning point for all of civil governance,” noted Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, floor manager of a bill she said strikes “at the very heart and soul of what it means to be an American, what it means to be a person.”
However, Senate Democrats who opposed the measure called it unconstitutional and another “assault” on Iowa women in a chamber where Republicans were forced to pay a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement by a former female staffer who brought a successful lawsuit against them.
“The bill before us today is the new form of GOP coercion of Iowa women,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “It is time for Republican politicians to stop playing politics and stop using your positions of power to harass and disrespect girls and women. Enough is enough.”
The measure 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 and a fine of $750 to $7,500 but there would be no penalty for the woman.
Backers said the bill is the strongest effort to date to protect the sanctity of life but opponents countered that the measure would encroach on medical decisions made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.
“This bill is dangerous. This bill is unconstitutional. This bill devalues Iowa women,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat. “This bill impacts every girl and every woman in our state from the time they get their period to the time they take their last breath.
“This bill puts a six-week ban on abortion,” added Petersen, who noted that prison inmates, livestock and corpses have more medical rights than Iowa women and girls under the bill. “The only exception to this medical ban is if a woman’s life is at stake. The only exception is to prevent death.”
Sinclair responded to the bill’s critics by telling Democrats “please, this is not a war on women and, in fact, roughly 50 percent of the people we are electing to protect here are indeed women so in fact a failure to pass this bill would be the true war on women in its most pure sense.”
Sinclair referenced the first time she heard her son’s heartbeat as a pregnant 19-year-old and the last time she heard her father’s heartbeat as emblematic of the bill’s purpose, telling senators “In each of those cases, I know that the heartbeats or the lack of one was the indication of another human being’s life.”
Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive officer of The Family Leader, said if the bill makes it through the Iowa House and gets signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, “Iowa would be the first state to recognize what science already affirms: a baby in the womb has her own unique DNA, her own unique heartbeat, is her own unique person. She’s a baby and she deserves to have her birthday.”
Erin Davison-Rippey, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa, called Wednesday’s vote “unpopular, unconstitutional, and unconscionable.”
“Plain and simple, Iowa women do not want to be dragged back to 1972, and taxpayers do not want to pay the cost of a lengthy, divisive legal battle to challenge Roe -- especially when seven in 10 Americans agree that abortion should remain safe and legal,” she added. “We call on reasonable members of the House to do the right thing and stop this attack on women’s health and rights.”