20-week abortion bill sparks concerns


By Maria Curi, Molly Hunter, and Anna Kayser |

As of Tuesday’s 30-20 vote in the Iowa Legislature, women in Iowa will not be able to have an abortion after 20 weeks; while some believe this measure will lead to fewer abortions, others say it will do just the opposite.

Jodie Tomlonovic, the executive director of the Family Planning Council of Iowa, said a provision of the bill that states that women will not be able to have an abortion even in the case of a genetic anomaly, will lead to more abortions because women will not be given enough time to determine if the anomaly is severe and will chose to not run the risk of waiting.

“I think there’ll be more abortions,” Tomlonovic said. “Particularly when it’s close to 20 weeks and if women … get something in their exam that they think there might be a problem, they might say ‘I can’t wait for 20 weeks’ if there’s an anomaly. If we think, I’m going to have to do it now, and then if they’d waited, they might have found that it wasn’t there, it wasn’t as bad. There’s the chance that there’ll be more abortions.”

The 20-week ban also does not make exceptions in cases of incest or rape.

Tom Chapman, the executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said the 20-week ban will be more effective in stopping abortions because it better defines what the life or health of a mother is.

“… The current code says that it’s not considered an abortion if it’s done to protect the life or health of the mother, and when health is defined that way, and it’s been defined that way in Iowa’s court, is that health could be any reason, could be physical, could be ‘I don’t feel like it,’ could be ‘I don’t feel like it’ that day, it could be anything,” he said. “So in our view it was not an effective restriction at all, and so that’s why we kind of wanted to work on tightening up that language, and so I think that’s what you’re seeing in that 20-week bill.”

Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, said, “Yesterday was a great day for women’s health and a great day for Iowa babies.” Yet, he said, there should be a more aggressive pro-life movement.

“I think it’s fair to say that this was a standalone — I don’t think this really sets the stage,” he said. “It was an incremental move for life. It really didn’t do anything except move from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. It was pretty straightforward, and really, from a pro-life standpoint it was about as basic a bill that we could’ve passed; the simplest bill that we could’ve passed this year.”

Bertrand said he will continue to push for an amendment he introduced and failed on the Senate floor Tuesday, which would ban abortions after one week.

“I think it’s a very creative bill,” Bertrand said. “What makes it creative is that it really brings in a lot of the concerns of a lot of people that are on both sides of the aisle. It has a provision for up to 24 weeks for abnormalities, it has a provision for the life of the mother throughout the pregnancy, and what it does at one week, it allows for really an exception for rape and incest by really allowing the morning-after pill. And it’s post-fertilization, which takes kind of the moral issue off the table to talk about in vitro or petri-dish-type pregnancies. I’m going to continue to push that legislation. I think it’s good legislation.”

The 20-week ban also includes a 72-hour waiting period, which Tomlonovic said could cause particular hardship for women in rural areas. “They’re going to have to go to where the abortion provider is, and then go home, and then come back.”

Rachel Lopez, the public-relations manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the 20-week ban is unprecedented.

“It is unprecedented in the state of Iowa, which historically has been a state that really understands the value of reproductive health care and has been very supportive of [it],” Lopez said. “This is extremist legislation, and in terms of how it compares, there are certainly other states that have severely limited reproductive health care. What makes Iowa really, unfortunately, important is that we do tend to be in bellwether, which is why the nation is paying attention to what these extremist lawmakers are doing in Iowa.”