Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has done what Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich won't do: signed into law a ridiculously unconstitutional "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban that will eliminate more than 90% of abortion procedures and will immediately be challenged in court. Maureen Shaw explains:
Dubbed the “heartbeat bill,” the law will prohibit doctors from providing abortion care once a fetal heartbeat is detected. But heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks after gestation (i.e., six weeks after a pregnant person’s last period began). Given that many women don’t learn they are pregnant until after that benchmark, Iowa's law effectively makes abortion illegal while depriving women of their bodily autonomy.
Indeed, women typically don’t find out they are pregnant until they are, on average, five to seven weeks along (for a number of reasons). The science is clear on this issue but I also know it to be true from personal experience. In my early 20s, I didn’t suspect I was pregnant until I was seven weeks along. I then had to make an appointment with my OB-GYN to confirm the pregnancy and get a referral for abortion care. Just that one appointment delayed my abortion by a week, putting me at 8 weeks gestation. By Iowa’s standards, I would have been ruled ineligible and deprived of a chance to choose the best option for my health and the health of my family.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, of the 3,722 abortions performed in the state in 2016, only 347, or 9 percent of them occurred before six weeks of pregnancy. Based on these numbers, the heartbeat bill will potentially force pregnancy upon the vast majority of pregnant women in Iowa who do not want to have a child.
Previous to this bill being signed, Iowa already imposed numerous restrictions on abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortions after 20 weeks gestation are banned in the state unless the woman’s life is endangered, and public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal anomaly. The governor must approve each Medicaid-funded abortion. Women are also forced to undergo an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion, and a pregnant minors’ parent or parents must be notified before the procedure can be performed.
In this context, Iowa’s heartbeat bill isn’t entirely unexpected. But it is unlikely to go into effect in light of judicial precedent. Federal courts have already thwarted similar attempts to ban abortions in Ohio, North Dakota and elsewhere.
So what’s the endgame here? As Robyn Marty has previously noted: “Anti-abortion groups no longer fear that the Supreme Court, given its current and future mix of justices, will uphold Roe if another case makes its way there.” In other words, they’re attempting to use this bill as a test case to get the issue in front of the Supreme Court, where they hope a post-Trump court will gut abortion rights nationwide.
Indeed, state Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) publicly declared as much during the bill’s floor debate: "Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero nationally for the life movement and the starting line back to the Supreme Court. I believe this bill will be the vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Bertrand’s “opportunity” is a dystopian nightmare for women. Imposing such a punitive law would decimate women’s self-determination by eliminating the ability to plan their families. And make no mistake: low-income and financially overburdened women have been shown to suffer the brunt of other, similar abortion bans (as those with financial resources are better able to travel out of state to seek abortion care).
We're one new Trump-appointed justice away from losing essentially every court-based civil rights, reproductive rights, and equality-based protection gained in the last 60 years. The clock is not on our side, and if Trump gets re-elected, the game is essentially over.
I'm not sure what it's going to take in order to get people to realize this, but we're already well on the road to things being far too late.