In the late hours of Tuesday and early hours of Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature passed a so-called “heartbeat bill” banning abortion at around six weeks of gestation, when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant. Reproductive justice advocates say the legislation, which only provides few exceptions, would effectively make abortion illegal in the state.
The bill is now on its way to the desk of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds for consideration. Reynolds is anti-abortion, but she hasn’t signalled whether she’ll sign it. Though banning abortion at (and beyond) six weeks is popular among anti-choice lawmakers, passing this type of legislation is not that easy. For example, a similar effort in Ohio failed in 2016 when Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed the state's "heartbeat bill."
“Anti-choice legislators across Iowa have made it their mission to erode the rights of women and families rather than look out for women of Iowa’s best interests,” NARAL Pro-Choice America National Communications Director Kaylie Hanson Long said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
She added: “We know that when abortion access is restricted the number of deaths and injuries to women goes up, and it’s shameful that Iowa legislators are playing politics with our lives.”
Abortion rates have declined nationwide in the last years, but research has found the procedure is still fairly common: About one in four women will have an abortion by the age of 45. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 91.7% of abortions take place in the first trimester.
The legislation banning abortion at six weeks has an exception for survivors of rape or incest, but it comes with a few caveats. In order to be allowed to undergo the procedure, the pregnant person would have to report the rape to the authorities or a physician within 45 days of the “incident,” says the bill. Those who find themselves pregnant because of incest would have a period of 140 days to report the situation in order to be allowed an abortion.
Iowa’s proposed ban is just one of many new abortion restrictions that have been pushed forward in recent months. Mississippi recently banned abortion at 15 weeks, though a federal judge blocked the law. In Ohio, anti-choice lawmakers introduced a total ban on abortion and proposed to charge with murder — a crime punishable by the death penalty in the state — both physicians who provide abortion care and women who undergo the procedure.
If Reynolds signs the six-week ban into law, it’s likely it will be challenged in court. Pro-choice advocates say the law would be unconstitutional, since the US Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability in 1992. (Most researchers have said a fetus is not considered viable before 20 weeks of pregnancy.) Since that ruling, banning abortion before the 20-week mark has been interpreted by the courts as unconstitutional.
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