WASHINGTON – Iowa Republicans who approved the nation’s strictest abortion measure predict it will trigger a legal battle that ultimately leads to the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade.
The bill, approved by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature Wednesday, would outlaw almost all abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A fetus’s heartbeat can typically be detected at just six weeks, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
The so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill, which had already received approval by the House of Representatives, now goes to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, an abortion opponent, who has not said if she will sign it into law. “Governor Reynolds is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn,” a spokeswoman said after the vote.
GOP lawmakers exulted after the Senate approved the bill, 29-17, and said they eagerly awaited a legal battle that they predicted would culminate with the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision granting women the constitutional right to have an abortion.
“We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade — 100 percent,” Republican state Senator Rick Bertrand told fellow lawmakers after the vote.
“Today, we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero nationally for the life movement and the starting line back to the Supreme Court,” added Bertrand, who represents Sioux City. “I believe this bill will be the vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Bertrand and other Republicans in the Iowa Legislature said they’re hopeful Roe v. Wade will be overturned with the Supreme Court’s conservative shift since President Donald Trump’s appointee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined the high court.
But the Supreme Court has declined to take up states’ petitions to hear challenges to Roe v. Wade, and in 2016 struck down by a 5-3 vote a Texas law that would have severely restricted restrictions. The court has ruled women can legally have abortions until the fetus would be viable outside the womb, normally at about 24 weeks.
Still, Iowa Republicans seemed undeterred, and a growing number of states have adopted extreme abortion restrictions, which anti-abortion activists see as a sign of momentum in their favor even though courts have struck down some of these restrictions.
Also, with rumors resurfacing about the possible retirement of 81-year-old Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who voted to strike down the Texas law, and other elderly justices on the bench, abortion opponents see the distinct possibility of another Trump appointee shifting the balance to a 5-4 vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“This law, if signed, I believe could very well be the very bill that overturns Roe v. Wade,” said Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman, who represents Adel, about 20 miles west of Des Moines. “The fight for life is a fight worth fighting at every step of the way.”
But in a debate that grew testy at times (and was broadcast live and is now posted on the Iowa Legislature site), Democrats condemned the bill as unconstitutional and an affront to the rights of women. (No Democrats voted for the measure in the House, which approved it, 51-47, or the Senate.)
“Tonight, Republicans, you have once again made a choice — a choice to debate legislation that devalues the bodies and decision-making skills of Iowa women and girls,” said Democratic Sen. Janet Petersen.
“None of you went to medical school, yet you Republican politicians are making dangerous medical decisions. This bill tells Iowa women and girls that forced pregnancy is more important than their health and well-being.”
Beyond the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, the bill drew fierce criticism from abortion rights advocates and effusive praise among abortion opponents.
“The Iowa legislators’ attempt to effectively ban abortion is a blemish on the state and serves as a reminder that Iowa’s leadership does not value health care,” Erin Davison-Rippey, public affairs director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa, said in a statement.
“If these lawmakers really wanted to decrease the need for abortion, they would work to increase access to birth control,” Davison-Rippley said. “Instead, they’ve decimated access to family planning because it is not about reducing abortion; it is about oppressing women and catering to a small, extreme interest group.”
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa demanded that Governor Reynolds veto the bill.
In sharp contrast, Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian group based in Urbandale, Iowa, exulted over the anti-abortion measure’s approval.
“This vote represents a remarkable step forward in the defense of human life,” Plaats wrote on group’s website. “The heartbeat bill could save thousands of babies every year from the horror of abortion, and its passage demonstrates that many in our culture recognize that the little girl, with her heart beating in her mother’s womb — she’s a baby.”
The Iowa bill allows exceptions to the ban, including for abortions if pregnancies resulting from rapes are reported to law enforcement or a health agency within 45 days; pregnancies resulting from incest are reported within 20 weeks to a law enforcement or health agency; or a physician discovers a “fetal abnormality” that is “incompatible with life.”