At the beginning of May, legislators in Iowa got to work on a bill that, once implemented, will prohibit abortions after fetuses develop a heartbeat – at about six weeks. On Tuesday, May 2nd, all but six House Republicans passed the legislation without any support from Democratic representatives, then by 2am on Wednesday, the state Senate approved the measure before it found its way to Governor Kim Reynolds who signed the controversial abortion bill into law.
The measure, known as the “heartbeat bill,” has cropped up before, having been passed in Arkansas and North Dakota. Both of those bills were shut down by federal courts, and many pro-choice advocates hope for a similar ruling regarding the new law in Iowa.
However, with the election of Donald Trump, the courts have shifted, as the President continues to appoint conservative judge after conservative judge. Pro-life Republicans hope that the tectonic shifts in the judiciary will prove useful in the battle against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court Ruling that deemed abortions constitutionally protected. Republican state Senator Rick Bertrand (of Sioux), spoke ominously during the debate in the Senate: “Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero, now nationally, in the life movement.”
Upon signing the bill, Governor Reynolds spoke sanctimoniously about the bill: “I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred, and as governor, I pledged to do everything in my power to protect it. That is what I am doing today.”
The law – which is set to take effect on July 1st barring any judicial interference – will require physicians to perform an ultrasound on anyone requesting an abortion. If the doctor notices a heartbeat, an abortion may not take place. And since heartbeats tend to emerge early on (at about six weeks), it’s very possible that many women will not have a chance to decide either way. In this regard, the law effectively outlaws abortions and thus, according to previous court decisions, violates the constitution, as per Roe v. Wade.
The Des Moines Register sketched the process of passing the bill. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, as legislators have been pushing for a “heartbeat ban” for years. During the 2017 session, lawmakers settled for the 20-week ban, which was still the most stringent abortion law in the land. Then, legislators turned their eyes once again to the six-week ban.
Several Republican representatives twisted the collective arm of other legislators, threatening to withhold their votes on a finance bill unless action was taken on the stricter abortion ban. Acquiescing to the demands, legislative leaders attached exceptions for rape, incest and fetal anomalies, in order to ensure the bill’s passage. After hours of exhaustive debate, the House finally voted 51-46 in favor of the measure, and not long after, the Senate approved with a vote of 29-17.
In an article on NBCNews.com, Maureen Shaw, writer and activist, argues that the heartbeat bill is only the beginning. Republicans want nothing more than to bring this issue back to the Supreme Court, she argues. Governor Reynolds referenced this in her speech following the signing of the bill: “I understand and I anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court, and that courts may even put on hold a law until it reaches the Supreme Court,” she said, continuing, “However, this is bigger than just a law. This is about life. And I’m not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in.”
Shaw contends that Republicans know exactly what they’re doing with the six-week ban, noting that according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, in 2016 only nine percent (or 347) of abortions were conducted prior to the six-week mark. That means more than 90 percent of women could effectively be barred from pursuing abortions of their own volition.
Senator Bertrand may see the bill as the beginning of a “life movement,” but as pointed out by Shaw, many (low-income) women will see this as a “dystopian nightmare.” Planned Parenthood has already announced its lawsuit against the state. Advocates for reproductive health will surely hope that Republicans were wrong to wager on a conservative ruling in the courts.