Controversial 'fetal heartbeat' bill advances in Iowa Senate

A packed room at the Statehouse Thursday for public comment on a bill that would ban most abortions in Iowa after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The bill advanced to a full committee. (Caroline Cummings).

A bill that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected advanced in the Iowa Senate Thursday.

A Republican-led subcommittee heard public testimony in a packed room in the capitol, where several women's rights advocates, legal experts, religious officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle sparred over Senate Study Bill 3143, a bill that would ban most abortions in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can can happen as early as six weeks.

Under the bill, if doctors were to perform an abortion after the heartbeat is detected without a medical emergency, they could be charged with a felony.

Sen. Janet Peterson, D-Des Moines— the sole Democrat on the subcommittee—denounced the effort, calling it "dangerous and unconstitutional," maintaining the legislation is an attack on not only women and girls, but also doctors and Iowa families all across the state.

"It is a direct attack on women’s health care across our state," she said.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, who chaired the panel, said that the effort isn't an attack on women, sharing her own story of when she first heard her son's heartbeat when she got pregnant at the age of 19 and how hearing it for the first time "affected her life significantly."

"If this were a war on women, we wouldn’t be trying to save half of all of the women that are killed by the process of abortion," Sinclair said.

Opponents told the panel the state could face litigation challenging the constitutionality of it if the bill becomes law.

Daniel Zeno, policy director for the ACLU of Iowa, said the bill is "unquestionably unconstitutional" and that the bill language would effectively "foreclose the option for any legal abortion" for some women.

Supporters like the conservative group The Family Leader say this is a matter of protecting life, arguing that if life ends when a heartbeat stops, it starts when a heartbeat begins

“Nobody ever makes the statement that a heartbeat does not mean life," Scott Valenci, chairman of the Coalition of Pro Life leaders.

Chuck Hurley, vice president of The Family Leader contended, it's lawmakers duty to enact laws that protect people and not "abdicate to the courts."

“You have a moment in time and a responsibility as lawmakers to pass a law that loves them both," Hurley said.

Opponents like Planned Parenthood say it’s matter of protecting women’s health and their freedom.

“Like other abortion bans, this legislation inserts the government into the personal lives of Iowa women," said Jamie Burch representing Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

The panel voted 2-1 to move the bill to a full committee vote. This bill comes on the heels of legislation that passed last session banning abortions after 20 weeks.

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