Iowa votes for most US's strictest abortion law

'Fetal heartbeat' bill likely to face legal challenge

Emily Shugerman
New York
Wednesday 02 May 2018 15:58
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A view of the Iowa state capitol on April 11, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa
A view of the Iowa state capitol on April 11, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa

Republican legislators in Iowa have passed would could be US’s most restrictive abortion law, setting themselves up for a legal battle some conservatives say they’re eager to fight.

The bill, passed by Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature, bans most abortions after a foetal heartbeat is detected – in most cases, after six weeks.

Opponents say the bill – which would impose the strictest gestational limit in the country – would outlaw abortions before many women even know they are pregnant.

The bill provides limited exemptions for cases of rape and incest, or when the procedure would save a pregnant woman's life.

It now goes to the desk of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, whose office suggested she was open to signing it into law.

"Governor Reynolds is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn," press secretary Brenda Smith said in an email to the Associated Press.

Republican politician suggests that women who have an abortion should face the death penalty

Republicans cheered the bill's passage, claiming it would protect the sanctity of unborn life.

"A baby has become something we can throw away," Representative Sandy Salmon said during the floor debate. "This bill says it's time to change the way we think about unborn life."

But opponents said the bill was not only dangerous – it could be unconstitutional.

“At this moment, the House is debating a cruel and unconstitutional plan to ban abortion before a woman even knows she is pregnant, intentionally preventing access to abortion care completely,” NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement on Tuesday night, before the bill passed both chambers.

The organisation 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.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa has signalled that they will challenge the bill in court. The organisation has already argued in the Iowa Supreme Court against a restrictive abortion law passed during the last legislative sessions.

Both laws, opponents say, would violate Roe v Wade – the US Supreme Court ruling that upheld women’s right to an abortion.

Some Iowa lawmakers, however, said they were eager for a legal battle that could bring the 1973 ruling before the Supreme Court again.

"I would love for the United States Supreme Court to look at this bill and have this as a vehicle to overturn Roe v Wade," Senator Jake Chapman said, according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court blocked a similar "heartbeat" law in North Dakota in 2016.

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