Iowa Legislature Passes Legislation Banning Abortion When Fetal Heartbeat Is Detected

State Capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa / Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa State Legislature passed legislation on Wednesday aimed at banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

If Gov. Kim Reynolds (R.) signs the "heartbeat bill" into law, it will almost definitely spark legal challenges from abortion supporters who find it too restricting, the Associated Press reports.

The bill is currently on the way to the governor's desk, and many expect her to sign it. Reynolds hasn't spoken about the bill, but her press secretary said the governor "is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn."

Pro-abortion groups and Democratic lawmakers in the state, none of whom voted for the legislation, are vehemently opposed to the measure.

"By passing an intentionally unconstitutional bill, Iowa Republicans have declared that they do not care about the foundational values of our state, or Iowa’s future," Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman Erin Davison-Rippey said. "They do not care how much taxpayer money will be spent on a lawsuit, they don’t care how many women’s lives will be damaged because of inadequate access to care, or how many families may choose to go elsewhere because Iowa is no longer a state where they are safe to live and work."

The bill targets the doctors who perform the what-would-be-illegal abortions and carves out exemptions in cases when the pregnant woman's life is in danger, among other cases.

The Iowa legislation contains some exemptions, including allowing abortions after a detectable heartbeat to save a pregnant woman’s life or in some cases of rape and incest. Another provision prohibits some uses of fetal tissue, with exemptions for research. A woman would have to report a rape within 45 days to law enforcement or a physician to qualify for an exemption to the abortion ban. Incest must be reported within 140 days to receive an exemption.


The bill provides immunity to women receiving abortions but not to doctors who perform them. Their licenses could be revoked for violations, and prosecutors could consider criminal charges against them. That’s not addressed by the bill.

Similar laws have been passed in Arkansas and North Dakota, only to be struck down by federal appeals courts.

Supporters of the legislation, however, are hopeful the measure can be a catalysis for change in the abortion debate.

Backers of the legislation, which failed to get a single Democratic vote in either Iowa chamber, expressed hope it could challenge Roe vs. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established women have a right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable. Conservatives say an influx of conservative judicial appointments under President Donald Trump could make it a possibility.

"Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero, now nationally, in the life movement," Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, said during the floor debate.

"A baby has become something we can throw away," Iowa State Rep. Sandy Salmon (R.) said. "This bill says it’s time to change the way we think about unborn life."

A fetal heartbeat can be usually be detected around six weeks of pregnancy.