On May 4, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed what has been called “the strictest abortion regulation in the nation,” a law banning most abortions in cases in which a fetal heartbeat has been detected.
The law, which passed the Iowa state legislature three days previously, was signed Friday amid protests of “My body, my choice” and loud cheers from supporters. Officially designated SF-359, the bill requires physicians to test for a fetal heartbeat on any woman seeking an abortion and prohibits them from performing that abortion should a heartbeat be discovered. Exceptions are allowed in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies.
According to the Des Moines Register, the bill faced an uphill battle in Iowa’s state legislature:
The Iowa Senate approved legislation earlier this year instituting a fetal heartbeat ban, but action stalled in the House, where many Republicans felt the existing 20-week ban was sufficient.
In the final days of the legislative session, a small group of Republican senators threatened to withhold their votes on critical, session-ending budget bills until the House called the abortion bill to a vote.
House leaders brokered a deal to create new exceptions to the ban in some cases of rape, incest and fetal anomaly.
The measure came to the floor and passed with the bare minimum number of votes — 51 to 46 — late Tuesday night.
Six Republicans voted against the ban, siding with Democrats who fought the measure through nine hours of heated and emotional debate.
After its passage, the Senate immediately took up the legislation and passed it on a 29-17 vote at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Reynolds’ office received the bill Thursday morning and, after declining to say whether she would sign it, announced mid-day Friday she would give it her signature.
About 100 people — lobbyists, legislators, faith leaders and children — were present Friday to applaud Reynolds’ signature. [Emphasis added]
Critics of the new law say the restrictions could prohibit abortions before women even realize they are pregnant. Per NPR:
“The likelihood that an individual can miss her period, get a pregnancy test, then make an appointment to see an abortion provider, take time off of work if she’s working, find child care for her other children, get in to get her abortion and have all of that done prior to a six-week time period is absolutely unrealistic and unreasonable,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, which advocates for contraception and abortion rights.
Perritt said the law is simply designed to limit access to abortion. “The reality is that it’s justice by geography. Abortion is legal in this country.”
Contrastingly, the bill received praise from Iowans such as Susan Morledge, 70, who supports greater restrictions on abortion, despite having undergone the procedure herself “for medical reasons” at age nineteen. “To me, a heartbeat means a baby is alive,” said Morledge, who is now a mother of two adult children.
Governor Reynolds addressed concerns about the bill in a statement, writing that “I understand that not everyone will agree with this decision. But if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life? For me, it is immoral to stop an innocent beating heart.”
The new law has drawn sharp responses from both sides of the political aisle. According to CBS News:
Democrats in the Iowa House called the bill “intentionally unconstitutional.”
“This would take away the right of women to make their own health care choices,” argued Rep. Monica Kurth, of Davenport, according to CBS Des Moines affiliate KCCI-TV.
Republicans said life is precious and needs to be protected, the station adds. “We are alive when our hearts start beating and our life is over when it stops,” said Representative Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn.
In March, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed similar legislation that outlaws abortions after the fifteenth week of gestation, except in cases of medical emergency or severe fetal abnormalities. Immediately following the signing, the law was temporarily halted by a U.S. federal judge, who issued an order delaying its implementation for 10 days in response to a suit from the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Mississippi law, which does not provide exceptions in cases of rape and incest, has since faced a bevy of challenges from abortion rights activists.
The Iowa bill will also likely face its fair share of legal challenges, including from the same federal appeals court that three years ago struck down similar laws approved in both Arkansas and North Dakota.
For her part, Reynolds admits knowing that signing the bill would be controversial. “I understand and anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court and that courts may even put a hold on the law until it reaches the Supreme Court,” she said in her written statement. “However, this is bigger than just a law. This is about life. I am not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in.”
The bill, which the American Civil Liberties Union has already announced plans to challenge, is set to take effect beginning July 1.
To view SF-359, click here.
Why It Matters
As The News Blender’s own Steve Wood very eloquently explains, the right to life is the single most important of the “natural rights” the Founders sought to protect when the United States was established. It is listed first in the Declaration of Independence among the unalienable rights with which all men are “endowed by their Creator,” since no subsequent right can exist in its absence. As with all rights bequeathed by the government, a woman’s “right” to an abortion necessarily comes at the expense of someone else’s natural rights – in this case, her unborn child’s right to life.
Currently, America is fairly evenly divided on the issue of abortion. According to Gallup, 50% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Laws such as this one reflect the recent shift of consensus away from unrestricted access to abortion and might, as many Republican lawmakers in Iowa hope, result in a challenge to Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court. Scientific breakthroughs and improvements in technology have contributed to this trend, helping advance the argument against abortion from largely moral to quantifiable, factual grounds.
However, it is crucial that conservatives do not grow complacent in the fight to protect the most precious of all rights. Bills like those signed in Iowa and Mississippi should not be viewed as an end unto themselves. Even with today’s technology, fetal heartbeats are present long before they can be detected via ultrasound, and there is a strong scientific argument that can be made that life begins before even that.
Laws are not always popular, nor will they always last. It’s important that everyone who is pro-life continues to do all they can to ensure that abortion is one day confined to the dark annals of history where it belongs.