Iowa Republicans are devaluing women – again

Iowa Republicans are once again making clear that they value the potential of pregnancy more than they value women.

Their latest missive is Senate Study Bill 3143: “An act relating to the prerequisites for and prohibition against an abortion related to the testing for, and following the detection of, a fetal heartbeat, providing for a repeal, and providing penalties.”

A nearly identical bill, HF2163, was introduced in the Iowa House: “An act recognizing the rights and protections accorded each life from the moment of fetal heartbeat detection, prohibiting the performance of an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, providing for licensee discipline, and providing a repeal.”

Both bills basically state that, once a fetal heartbeat is detected by ultrasound, a pregnant woman cannot legally obtain an abortion. Doctors who defy the rule are either subject to “licensee discipline” (House) or “a Class D felony.” punishable by up to five years in prison (Senate). The bills don’t specify who files charges or under what circumstances, but both bills are adamant that women seeking or receiving abortions face no penalty.

Iowa Republicans - The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Following “the testing of the pregnant woman,” doctors are required to provide written notice of the status of the fetal heartbeat and, if a heartbeat was detected, notice that abortion is prohibited. The pregnant woman must sign these notices, and a copy must be included in her medical record.

While the House proposal hasn’t advanced, it contains especially troubling language — which may explain why it hasn’t moved forward despite having 20 GOP sponsors. It redefines contraception in a bid to outlaw some methods, including birth control pills.

Contraception, according to the bill, “means a method of inhibiting the development of a human pregnancy at any state prior to conception” and “does not include an abortifacient.” Conservatives often falsely claim that some contraception — birth control pills, emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs) — cause abortions and are thus “abortifacients,” despite assurances from medical authorities, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that these methods do nothing more than prevent pregnancy.

The advancing Senate bill allows doctors to perform abortions only to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency. Details are hidden in what lawmakers believe constitutes an emergency: death. If the pregnant woman will die, she can have an abortion.

Bill supporters do not care if a pregnancy ultimately results in a healthy or living infant. They do not care if a doomed pregnancy risks a woman’s health, including her future reproductive health. Republicans supporting the bill do not care if a female, teenager or adult, becomes pregnant due to an act of violence or incest, or if a developmentally disabled woman is raped and becomes pregnant. Unless any of these women wind up in a life or death struggle, they will be forced by the state into motherhood — ready or not, capable or not, healthy or not, living child or not.

Supporters of these bills value the potential of pregnancy, however fleeting, more than they value women.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Feb. 10, 2018. Photo credit: Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette