By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would establish the toughest abortion restriction in the country, banning the procedure after 18 weeks.
Five other states have passed laws that ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Earlier this year, the Republican-led Iowa House embraced a similar ban, which was never taken up in the Senate. The new House bill would ban the procedure two weeks earlier.
Representative Dawn Pettengill, a Republican who supports the bill, was surprised to hear the new bill was tougher than the previous version.
"I believe that life begins at conception, so to me, I say, 'Great!'" Pettengill said. "I'm glad that is true."
The proposed ban would allow abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy only if the mother's life were at risk.
House Republicans established rules that prevented debate of the measure before the vote was taken.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Democrat, called the debate-free vote "disgusting."
Elizabeth Nash, policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group, said she was "really surprised" by the bill.
"This is an unbelievable attack on women's rights," Nash said. "This just shows how far they're willing to go."
The bill faces a dim future in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate. Democrats there have passed a proposal that sets up a new state permit process which prevents a Nebraska doctor from following through on his plans to open a late-term abortion clinic in the city of Council Bluffs. But such a clinic would be able to open in other Iowa cities.
(Reporting by Kay Henderson; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)