A bill prohibiting the sale of fetal tissue and banning abortion after six weeks passed the Iowa House and Human Resources Committee on Thursday, clearing the way for a floor vote in the state House that reproductive justice advocates say could have sweeping consequences in the state and all but ban the procedure before most people even know they are pregnant.
In a 12 to 9 vote, Iowa lawmakers endorsed the so-called “heartbeat bill”, which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or approximately six weeks. While the measure allows for an abortion in the case of physical threat to the health of the pregnant parent, no exceptions for rape, incest, or age are included.
“I think it will do a great deal to promote a culture of life in this state,” said Rep. Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville).
That sentiment is far from universal. The bill initially centered on banning the sale of fetal tissue, but the heartbeat component was attached to the legislation as a GOP-led subcommittee considered the measure on Wednesday before the wider House committee passed it on Thursday. Abortion rights supporters lobbied the subcommittee to reject the measure, speaking to their own experiences with the procedure and testifying that the lives of many in the state will be drastically impacted without access to abortion.
“If I did not have the choice to terminate my pregnancy, I would not be with you here today,” said Leah Vanden Bosch, who lives in West Des Moines. “I will not stop saying that until you understand what I am telling you. If someone were to force me to stay pregnant, I would have been so desperate to escape the reality that would have become my life, that I would have been willing to take my own.”
The sole Democrat on the three-person panel, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (Ames), panned the addition of the six-week ban.
“I am disappointed that we have … basically a bait-and-switch,” she said.
Iowa already has among the most hardline anti-abortion laws in the country. The state currently bans the medical procedure after 20 weeks and requires parental consent for minors seeking abortions. Ultrasounds are mandated for those seeking abortions, while Medicaid-funded abortions must receive special approval by the governor. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2014 some 89 percent of Iowa counties did not have clinics offering abortion.
That scenario mirrors a reality across much of the United States, where hardline laws and ongoing efforts on both the state and federal level have rolled back abortion rights. Heartbeat bills have gained popularity in recent years and present an appealing option for abortion opponents. Despite facing repeated opposition from federal courts and officials concerned over constitutional infringements, lawmakers in Ohio, Arkansas, North Dakota, and elsewhere have all attempted to install such legislation. In January, Republicans introduced a national heartbeat bill for the first time in Congress. Iowa Rep. Steve King (R) made the intention of the bill clear to reporters prior to the bill’s introduction.
“We think this bill properly applied does eliminate a large, large share of the abortions — 90 percent or better — of the abortions in America,” King said.
Iowa’s bill hits out at more than just abortion access. The sale of fetal tissue is another popular area of national debate. While fetal tissue donation is legal on a federal level, U.S. law prohibits any parties from profiting in such exchanges. But in 2015, a series of discredited sting videos released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress purported to show Planned Parenthood representatives engaging in the sale of fetal tissue. The videos set off a firestorm of legislation, in addition to sparking a deadly attack on a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado. Last November, Arkansas cut off Medicaid funding to the organization for a second time, citing the videos as rationale. Earlier this year, Ohio passed a law requiring fetal tissue to be either buried or cremated.
That trend seems set to continue in Iowa, where residents expressed concern that the state’s advancing heartbeat bill would negatively impact pregnant people in need of help.
“At six weeks and for some time to come, that fetal heartbeat that’s in the bill is dependent upon another heartbeat,” Jane Robinette, an Urbandale resident, told the Des Moines Register. “What about the heartbeat of the 12-year-old incest or rape survivor who finds herself pregnant? What about the heartbeat of the 50-year-old [parent] of grown children. What about the heartbeat of the teenager who cuts herself because of emotional or psychological trauma or who is suicidal?”
The House bill notably removes language contained in a separate version of the legislation in the Senate repealing Iowa’s 20-week restriction if the heartbeat bill becomes law. Another provision in the Senate bill, which would impose a Class D felony on doctors for performing abortions after six weeks, was also removed. Due to procedural deadlines, the House must approve the bill by Friday in order for it to remain eligible for ongoing debate this session.
Iowa’s efforts are the latest in a recent string of anti-abortion measures in the South, Midwest, and Appalachia. After vowing to “end abortions in Mississippi” in 2014, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is expected to sign a bill banning the procedure after 15 weeks. In Kentucky, the state House of Representatives passed a bill this week banning the commonly-used “dilation and evacuation” procedure, or D&E, after 11 weeks. Banning the procedure would make virtually all second trimester abortions in the state illegal. The bill is now headed to the Kentucky Senate.