Iowa GOP lawmakers scrap 'fetal heartbeat' abortion bill

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2017 8:43 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Iowa on Wednesday scrapped legislation that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, retreating just one day after announcing the proposal.

The move marked a blow for conservatives in the state seeking to enact among the nation's toughest abortion restrictions after new GOP majorities in the statehouse and the governor's office.

The heartbeat provision had been one of several restrictions added to a bill that separately would ban most abortions around 20 weeks of pregnancy. The new amendment included requirements that a woman wait 72 hours before she could have an abortion. She would also need to sign documentation acknowledging after an ultrasound that a heartbeat was detected and that she was informed of the statistical probability of bringing the pregnancy to term.

The heartbeat language would have prohibited most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Only a few states have seriously considered fetal heartbeat abortion bans, and none have successfully enacted it amid questions about the constitutionality of the measure.

A state House committee had been set to vote on the all-encompassing legislation Wednesday afternoon, but some GOP members announced before the vote that they lacked enough Republican support to pass the more far-reaching version.

"We've been working to bring all parts of our caucus together on a piece of legislation that everyone can support, and through the course of those conversations, this is where we have landed," said Rep. Joel Fry, a key author of the legislation and the committee chairman.

The bill in its latest form will again focus on the 20-week ban, which is based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point. House Republicans said they would strike language creating criminal penalties for physicians, though civil penalties would remain, allowing lawsuits. They also would remove an exception for abortions if the fetus has a fatal condition, only allowing the procedure during a medical emergency. The changes will require floor votes in both the House and Senate.

Democrats and abortion rights opponents had criticized the proposals, calling them an assault on women. Erin Davison-Rippey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said while Republicans responded to outrage over the sweeping proposal, she doesn't see the 20-week ban as a win, especially since language was removed that would provide abortion exceptions for unviable pregnancies.

"This bill is still extreme," she said. "It is still overreaching. It is still unconstitutional, and Iowans won't stand for it."

Nearly 20 states have passed similar 20-week legislation, and a handful faced legal challenges.

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said the lobbying group supported legislation that could face legal scrutiny, noting a 20-week bill is a good starting place for Iowa.

"We support life at conception," he said. "At the same time, I don't think our court's in that place where something like that could stand up, and I'd rather not have another brick in the wall for Roe v. Wade."

Rep. Shannon Lundgren, the bill's floor manager who supported the heartbeat provision, said Republicans still feel the 20-week ban would be a positive step for the state.

"I think this is an incremental step toward additional pro-life legislation that protects the life of the unborn baby," she said. "We're still moving pro-life legislation out of a pro-life caucus, and I think that's important to remember."