Governor Reynolds on Wednesday called a special legislative session to address the State Supreme Court declining to reinstate the 2018 Heartbeat Bill. The court was split 3-3 last month and did not issue a decision on the merits of the law. This will be the 24th year with a special session of the Iowa Legislature, but it will be just the 10th since 1970.
The special session will convene at 8:30am on Tuesday, July 11th at the Capitol building. The Health and Human Services Committee will meet at 9:15 AM. They will then recess for a public hearing at 9:30 AM (you can find the link to view the public hearing remotely at legis.iowa.gov). The Committee will resume following the public hearing.
The bill being considered is HSB 255, which you can also read on legis.iowa.gov. You will be able to access and cross reference it with Iowa code on that site as well.
So, what does this Heartbeat Bill do? Mainly, it prohibits an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected by abdominal ultrasound, unless there is a medical emergency for the mother or there is another qualifying exception (rape, incest, fetal abnormality, miscarriage).
This bill does not say 6-weeks anywhere in it. This bill simply prohibits an abortion (unless it meets an exception) after fetal heartbeat is detected by abdominal ultrasound. This occurs more likely between 8 weeks and 10 weeks gestation, depending on the woman. Some medical organizations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists claim that a heartbeat does not occur until roughly 17 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. So there is still time following a missed period for a woman to still seek an abortion prior to a fetal heartbeat being detected by abdominal ultrasound.
This bill also ensures that women will be cared for during difficult times like miscarriages. When there is no heartbeat detected, there is no longer a prohibition on abortion from occurring. Additionally, abortion is defined as “the termination of a human pregnancy with the intent other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” Therefore, the removal of a dead fetus is not an abortion. Treatment for a miscarriage is not prohibited under this bill.
The medical emergency exception is broad and if there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman, a physician using reasonable medical judgment will be able to understand when this is occurring and act accordingly.
Also of note, there is nothing in this bill that criminalizes health care. There are no civil or criminal penalties in this bill against doctors. A violation of performing an abortion after fetal heartbeat is detected by abdominal ultrasound and does not meet an exemption can be considered by the Board of Medicine, as all violations of law by a physician go through that licensee process. This is the same process that is in place right now for physicians that violate the 24-hour waiting period or Iowa’s 20-week postfertilization ban unless there is a medical emergency.
There is a huge spectrum of thought on this subject, and it has, and will continue to be argued. The Governor has recalled us to make a decision on this specific topic. There are religious beliefs, personal medical beliefs, folks that think partial birth abortion is a medical right, and folks that believe life begins at conception.
No decision or law on this topic satisfy everyone. For my one vote, I take in what the law will do, and in this instance where does life begin? A medically agreed upon sign of life is a heartbeat, and this bill aims to protect that life, while allowing common sense exemptions for the health and well-being of the mother. Unless the bill is altered or edited from its current form in an unforeseen way, I intend to vote for this bill.