DES MOINES, Iowa (CNS) — A bill described by some observers as the most restrictive abortion legislation in the nation has been sent to the desk of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The governor has not said whether she will sign the bill, which the Iowa Legislature passed in the middle of the night May 2. Depending on when the legislature adjourns, Reynolds will have three days or 30 days to sign it.

The so-called fetal heartbeat bill would prohibit abortions after a baby’s heartbeat can be detected. The legislation began as an amendment to an Iowa Senate bill that would stop trafficking in the fetal body parts that remain following an elective abortion.


“As Pope Francis has said, ‘Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb.’ We call upon the judiciary to once again recognize that all life should be protected from the moment of conception to natural death,” Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said after the bill’s passage.

The bill spells out specific steps that must be followed when a woman seeks an abortion. Specifically, it requires a physician to perform an abdominal ultrasound when testing for a detectable fetal heartbeat and to inform the pregnant woman in writing whether a fetal heartbeat was detected, and if so, that an abortion is prohibited.

The bill also requires the pregnant woman to sign a form acknowledging that she has received the written information provided by the physician.

Language in the bill explicitly prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat was detected unless a physician determines that a medical emergency exists or that the procedure is medically necessary.

A medical emergency would apply to an abortion performed to preserve the life of the woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness or injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy. It would not apply to abortions sought because of psychological, emotional and familial conditions or the woman’s age, or when continuation of the pregnancy would create a serious risk to the physical health of the woman.


Several exceptions were added to the bill:

— The pregnancy was the result of a rape and is reported within 45 days of the incident to a law enforcement agency or to a public or private health agency which may include a family physician.

— The pregnancy is the result of incest and is reported within 140 days of the incident to a law enforcement agency or to a public or private health agency which may include a family physician.

— Any spontaneous abortion, commonly known as a miscarriage, in which not all of the products of conception are expelled.

— The attending physician certifies that the fetus has a fetal abnormality that in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment is incompatible with life.

Opponents of the bill blasted Iowa Republicans — who hold the majority in both houses — for its passage.

“Rather than tackling the toughest issues facing our state, the GOP decided to pass a knowingly-unconstitutional bill in the dead of night that will do nothing but put the health care of Iowa women at risk,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a news release.

“It’s about a fundamental disrespect for our constitution and women and doctors in our country,” he said. “With this vote, Republicans have made our state more extreme than Mississippi or Kentucky.”

“The only reason this can be considered unconstitutional is because we have not determined in the courts when life begins,” said State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, Iowa Republican. “Once that is determined, the unborn baby receives the same constitutional rights and protections as a born person. We have to put forth legislation that will challenge the courts in order to force that discussion.”

Arguments that the bill “puts the health care of women at risk is absurd,” added Lundgren. “Abortion is not health care. Abortion is a procedure. This alters no ability to provide health care for a woman.

“It dumbfounds me when the opposition states that abortions are safe, legal and rare,” she said. “Who are they safe for? Certainly not the unborn baby. If the argument is because they are legal, they are rare, that can be debunked with the fact that over 60-million babies have been aborted since 1973 when Roe-v-Wade made abortion legal.”


Arland-Fye is editor of the Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.