Iowa lawmakers send 6-week abortion ban to governor
Published 7:20 am Thursday, May 3, 2018
DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican legislators sent Iowa’s governor a bill early Wednesday that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, propelling the state overnight to the front of a push among conservative statehouses jockeying to enact the nation’s most restrictive regulations on the procedure.
Critics say the so-called “heartbeat” bill, which now awaits the signature of anti-abortion GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, would ban abortions before some women even know they’re pregnant. That could set up the state for a legal challenge over its constitutionality, including from the same federal appeals court that three years ago struck down similar legislation approved in Arkansas and North Dakota.
Backers of the legislation, which failed to get a single Democratic vote in either Iowa chamber, expressed hope it could challenge Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established women have a right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable. Conservatives say an influx of right-leaning judicial appointments under President Donald Trump could make it a possibility.
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“Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero, now nationally, in the life movement,” Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, said during floor debate.
Erin Davison-Rippey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement Iowa Republicans “do not care how much taxpayer money will be spent on a lawsuit … or how many families may choose to go elsewhere because Iowa is no longer a state where they are safe to live and work.”
The House began debate over the measure early Tuesday afternoon, voting it out shortly before midnight with six Republicans there opposing it. The Senate then picked it up, with approval shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday. The nearly back-to-back votes come as Iowa lawmakers are on overtime at the state Capitol, trying to pass a spending budget and tax cuts later this week.
Reynolds declined Wednesday to say whether she’ll sign the bill into law. She did note: “I’m pro-life. I’m proud to be pro-life. I’ve made that very clear.”
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller told reporters Wednesday he’s reviewing whether his office would defend the bill if signed into law, acknowledging his staff is reviewing its constitutionality.
“We’re considering whether we should recuse ourselves,” he said. “We do this very rarely, but we’re looking at this case to see whether that should be one of those rare exceptions.”
Several states have attempted to advance abortion bans in recent years. Mississippi passed a law earlier this year banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s on hold after a court challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear similar heartbeat bills North Dakota and Arkansas approved in 2013, after they were rejected by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A federal court challenge would likely make its way to that appeals court, which has become increasingly conservative during Donald Trump’s administration.