DES MOINES, Iowa — A new ban on almost all abortions in Iowa after roughly six weeks of pregnancy prevailed with exclusively Republican support in one chamber of the Legislature late Tuesday night as tensions flared during a special session ordered by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The marathon day of committee meetings, floor debates and votes in both chambers exceeded 13 hours when the House voted just after 9 p.m. in approval of the bill. The bill now moves to the Senate, where, like in the House, Democrats have spent hours of debate questioning their Republican colleagues on the details.
The vast majority of demonstrators at the Capitol throughout the day voiced loud opposition to the bill. Two Republican representatives voted against the bill.
Reynolds ordered the rare session after the state Supreme Court declined to reinstate a law she signed in 2018 that is practically identical to the one being proposed Tuesday. Abortion is currently legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The current draft, like the 2018 law, would prohibit abortion once cardiac activity can be detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.
Chants from abortion advocates echoed through the rotunda and could be heard from rooms where state representatives and senators were meeting in the morning and afternoon. Members of the public for and against the bill alternated conveying their viewpoints to lawmakers from both chambers for nearly four hours in total.
Sara Eide of the Iowa Catholic Conference encouraged lawmakers to vote in favor.
“The unborn child is a distinct human life with her own value, with her own DNA, and with her own right to life and right to legal protections,” she said. “As a state and as a society, we should commit ourselves to protect all vulnerable populations wherever we find them.”
Hilary McAdoo, a fertility nurse, said her two daughters motivated her to voice her opposition Tuesday.
“Just because a person has the ability to become pregnant does not mean they should be forced to become a mother,” she said. “The people before me want to govern women’s bodies without understanding how they work.”
McAdoo called the six-week cutoff “impossible and irresponsible.”
Laws such as Iowa’s ban abortion when a “ fetal heartbeat ” can be detected, a concept that does not easily translate to medical science. That’s because at the point where advanced technology can detect that first visual flutter, the embryo isn’t yet a fetus, and it doesn’t have a heart. An embryo is termed a fetus beginning in the 11th week of pregnancy, medical experts say.
A district court found the 2018 law unconstitutional in 2019 based on rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and Iowa’s Supreme Court that had affirmed a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to abortion.
After both bodies overturned those rulings last year, the governor sought to reinstate the 2018 law. But the state’s high court deadlocked last month without ruling on the merits of an abortion ban, leaving the law permanently blocked.
And so Reynolds called lawmakers back to Des Moines.
Maggie DeWitte, the executive director of Pulse Life Advocates, an organization that opposes abortion, said the bill has been “a long time coming.”
“It is beyond time to once and for all have this heartbeat law passed for the second time, signed into law for the second time, but now able to be enforced,” she said.
There are limited circumstances under the measure that would allow for abortion after that point in a pregnancy — such as rape, if reported to law enforcement or a health provider within 45 days; incest, if reported within 145 days; if the fetus has a fetal abnormality “incompatible with life;” and if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the pregnant woman.
The draft of the measure released Friday indicates that Republican lawmakers want it to take immediate effect with the governor’s signature.
Democratic lawmakers proposed amendments to the language to expand the exceptions, which were swiftly rejected.