Iowa Passes Near-Total Abortion Ban After 14-Hour Debate

“This state is ridiculous,” one resident testified before lawmakers. “You guys are lying to yourselves and you’re offending everyone, including God."

Iowa Passes Near-Total Abortion Ban After 14-Hour Debate
A pastor, left, argues with a Des Moines resident as protesters clashed in the Iowa State Capitol rotunda Tuesday. Photo:Zach Boyden-Holmes (AP)

Late Tuesday night, the Iowa legislature passed a six-week abortion ban after Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) called a last-minute special session with the “sole purpose” of banning abortion. The ban will go into effect when the governor’ signs the bill—which she said she plans to do by Friday—and will quash Iowa’s reputation as one of the few Republican-controlled states where abortion was still legal for up to 20 weeks.

“The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed,” Reynolds said of the “heartbeat bill” in a statement—despite there being no such thing as “fetal heartbeat” until later in pregnancy and despite the fact that a majority of Iowan’s support abortion. “It’s good to know this was not based on any medical standards of care,” Rep. Megan Srinivas (D), who is also a doctor, said during the debate in the state House.

The special session—the state’s first since 2021—comes three months after the year’s regular session wrapped and one month after a split Iowa Supreme Court permanently blocked the state’s proposed six-week abortion ban, which Reynolds signed five years ago.

Back in 2018, Iowa’s state Supreme Court found there was a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state constitution. However, just days before Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, the state court essentially took back its own ruling. It’s wonky, but the state’s highest judicial body said abortion restrictions don’t have to pass the highest legal scrutiny to be deemed alright to implement. Because of that ruling, Roe falling, and the split state supreme court decision, Reynolds had her opening to re-introduce a nearly identical six-week abortion ban.

The bill passed 32-17 in the Senate shortly after 11 p.m. local time, after 14 hours of debate—onlookers booed and shouted “shame” and “fascists” at Republicans, and several were escorted out by state troopers, according to the Des Moines Register.

Democrats introduced 13 amendments to include considerations and exceptions for age, reporting requirements, and mental health. (None of them passed.) During one of the many amendment debates, state Sen. Liz Bennett (D) told bill sponsor Sen. Amy Sinclair (R), “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.” Bennett’s amendment during that exchange sought to clarify the legal definition of “rape” in the bill. It failed.

More than 100 Iowa residents signed up to speak during the bill’s public hearing on Tuesday morning, and the rotunda in Des Moines was packed with abortion rights and anti-abortion protesters chanting both during public comments and during the closed-door sessions. One Des Moines resident, Felicia Hilton, ripped Republicans a new one: “You guys are lying to yourselves and you’re offending everyone, including God. You’re offending God,” she said. “This state is ridiculous. This stupid, stupid ridiculous self-righteous crap.”

One woman spoke against the bill as an adoptee: “I am against this bill and for abortion as healthcare because I know adoption is not the answer.” she said, adding that there are a number of issues deserving of a special legislative session like safe drinking water and education funding. “We are not in a special session for any of those things. We’re in a special session so she might score political points to perhaps be a vice president.” (Reynolds, like many Republican state leaders across the country, has her name tossed in the mix of potential veeps. Thus far, she’s just cozying up to Republican candidates when they’re visiting Iowa.)

Once Reynolds signs the ban, Iowa will join the 13 other states where abortion is either outright banned or banned after six weeks of pregnancy. Democratic state Sen. Janice Weiner said enacting an immediate ban would show “incredible disrespect” to doctors; she later suggested that Iowa should think about changing its welcome sign to say “Iowa: Handmaid’s Paradise.”

For the party that claims to be so concerned with protecting life, Iowa Republicans spent their regular legislative session passing other egregious laws: In mid-April, they took a 4 a.m. vote to roll back child labor protections, expanding where children can work (like meat-processing plants) and what jobs children are allowed to perform (like operating heavy machinery and serving alcohol). The bill was signed into law by Reynolds in May.

State Rep. Ken Crokin (D) recalled George Carlin’s infamous 1996 rant on anti-abortion Republicans. “Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months,” Crokin said during the debate Tuesday, paraphrasing Carlin. “After that, they don’t want to know about you!”

There is little access to in-person abortion care in much of the Southeast as well as large swathes of the Midwest like Missouri and the Dakotas. It’s horrifying to see Iowa, once a bright spot of progressive legislation, succumb to Reynolds’ anti-abortion vision.

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