Iowa Republicans Call Special Session To Revive 6-Week Abortion Ban

The state could soon join other Republican strongholds in passing a near-total ban on the procedure.

Iowa lawmakers assembled in the state Capitol on Tuesday for a special session on a six-week abortion ban, even though a deadlock in the state’s Supreme Court less than a month ago made the ban unenforceable.

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) called the session last week, saying that the 3-3 vote in the state’s highest court last month “disregards the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers who will not rest until the unborn are protected by law.”

The “sole purpose” of Tuesday’s special session, Reynolds said in a statement, is to pass a ban on abortion once cardiac activity can be detected in the fetus, which typically happens at around six weeks into term, before many patients even know they’re pregnant.

Iowa currently allows abortion through 20 weeks of pregnancy. In 2018, Reynolds signed a six-week abortion ban into law, but it was blocked throughout years of litigation.

In the midst of that legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, allowing states to completely outlaw abortion for the first time in nearly half a century. But the Iowa Supreme Court was divided on what the state constitution says on the matter, with three justices arguing last month that it prohibits an undue burden on the procedure.

The proposed restrictions that form the focus of Tuesday’s special session are nearly identical to those blocked by the Iowa Supreme Court. Republicans have more than a 60% majority in both houses of the Iowa legislature, making it likely the measure will pass. The law would go into effect as soon as Reynolds signs it.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, Iowa lawmakers heard public comments as a large crowd of abortion rights activists protested outside the chamber.

McKenzie Sundall Gaspar, a medical student in Iowa who plans to practice as an OB-GYN, told lawmakers that strict abortion bans could drive physicians to leave the state and practice elsewhere.

“Iowa has the fewest OB-GYNs per capita in the entire country,” she said. “Iowa is in desperate need of future physicians like me and my classmates to stay in the state to practice. If this legislation passes, you are telling us this is a state that will stand between us and our patients.”

Planned Parenthood spoke out against the bill as well, saying in a statement that the legislation “has been referred to as the ‘Heartbeat Bill,’ but make no mistake: using the term ‘heartbeat’ is factually and medically inaccurate and designed to stigmatize abortion.”

“Every person’s situation is unique,” the group went on, “and the truth is that there is no scientific or medical consensus on when life begins.”

More than a dozen states have enacted near-total bans on abortion in the wake of Roe’s fall, including in Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin, all of which border Iowa. The bans have created a crisis of care for millions of Americans, even in states that don’t have such laws in place.

Iowa lawmakers are expected to vote on the legislation Tuesday afternoon.

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