An Iowa Senate bill banning abortion upon detection of a “fetal heartbeat” at approximately six weeks has gained ground, after passing a subcommittee last week. This is the second abortion bill in two years that the legislature has fought to get passed. Last year, a 20-week abortion ban was signed into law and has been tied up in court cases for the last six months.

A provision in the ban required that women wait 72-hours before being allowed to seek an abortion upon first seeing a doctor. The bill provided exemptions for abortions for the health and life of the mother. Before that bill’s passage, an amendment was filed that would ban abortions after conception, but was voted down.

Senate Study Bill 3143 would ban all abortions after six weeks, which is around the time that a heartbeat could be detected via an “abdominal ultrasound,” with the only exception dependent on the medical emergencies. The physician examining the pregnant woman would have to notify her in writing that a heartbeat is detected, and the woman would then have to confirm via signature that she had heard the information. Any physician that would then proceed with an abortion in a non-medical emergency situation would be committing a Class D felony in Iowa, punishable by no more than five years imprisonment, and a fine of $750-$7,500.

“This bill would jeopardize maternal healthcare for every women across state especially those in rural Iowa,” said Subcommittee Member Janet Petersen (D-District 18) at a public meeting on the legislation. “This bill is dangerous and unconstitutional. It doesn’t only go after women, it goes after doctors, girls, moms, grandmoms, and goes after Iowa families.”

Petersen argued that should the bill be signed into law, then Iowa would stand to lose its only OB/GYN residency program.

“One-third of University of Iowa OB/GYN graduates remain in the state for practice,” Petersen said. “Iowa is ranked last in the amount of OB/GYNs per capita, with two-thirds of Iowa counties not having OB/GYN physicians, we are second to last from Arkansas.”

The bill explains that the woman who receives an abortion would not be criminally punished for having the procedure, and that physicians could appeal their decision to perform an abortion in front of a board.

Lisa Banitt, an OB/GYN with the Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, argued to the subcommittee that the bill is too broad in its definitions of heartbeat, and doesn’t take into account the varying conditions that allow physicians to detect a heartbeat and at what time period that heartbeat can be detected.

Banitt expressed that a woman’s weight can hinder the ability to detect a heartbeat through abdominal ultrasound, as well as each woman’s inner-organ construction and placement in the body. She also argued that there are some women who have irregular menstral cycles, and would not even know they were pregnant by six weeks. Banitt said that if the bill were to become law, it would be hard to account for all the circumstances to align for the bill’s outcome.

Subcommittee Member Jason Schultz (R-District 9) expressed that being a believer in “life at conception,” and having gone through the failed process of proposing such an amendment last year, the current bill was something he could support, as it is a step in the right direction.

“As the culture still moves toward a pro-life view which is what I believe has been happening statistically for decades,” Schultz said, “ever since I believe the horrible Roe v. Wade decision, which even the authors have admitted was bad law. As the culture moves towards a life position, affirming the fact the killing is never healthcare. We find ourselves in a situation where even those who are seeking to end the holocaust of death that we find ourselves in, and it’s a culture of death that permeates all the way through, even moving to the point where so called death with dignity laws are actually just ending life prematurely in the end. We find ourselves in a culture where because of abortion and because of the a la carte death that the industry has brought us, that the culture is being repulsed by that, saying ‘no, life does matter.”

A member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the subcommittee that the bill was unconstitutional. The ACLU is heavily involved with the current suits against the 20 week abortion ban that await State Supreme Court decisions, now.

Last year, former Governor Terry Branstad approved a budget deal that cut Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood in the state, because of its association with providing abortions. Four clinics have since closed their doors, while the state allocated approximately $3.3 million in funding to other family planning clinics that do not perform abortions.