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Iowa Senate approves controversial 'heartbeat' abortion bill

[JURIST] The Iowa Senate on Wednesday voted 30-20 to approve a draft [text, PDF] of an anti-abortion bill that would ban most abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat. The bill now proceeds to the Iowa House of Representatives for consideration.

Specifically, the bill requires that a physician who has tested a pregnant woman for fetal heartbeat inform the woman 1) whether a fetal heartbeat was detected; and if so, 2) that an abortion is prohibited. The bill further requires the physician to perform an abdominal ultrasound test in detecting a heartbeat, in accordance with standard medical practice. The bill also requires the pregnant woman to sign a form acknowledging that she has been informed to this effect, but states that the law "shall not be construed to impose civil or criminal liability on a woman upon whom an abortion is performed in violation of this section."

The bill does, however, subject a physician to criminal penalties for violation of these requirements and further classifies such violations as a class "D" felony. A class D felony is punishable by confinement for no more than five years and a fine of at least $750, but not more than $7,500.

A physician charged or indicted for violation of the law can request a hearing before the board of medicine to determine whether a medical emergency necessitated the abortion. But the findings of the board of medicine are then admissible in criminal proceedings. The law further mandates that the court "may not" delay the criminal proceedings for more than 30 days because of the hearing.

The bill provides exceptions for medical emergencies such as a situation "in which an abortion is performed to preserve the life of the pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy," but excludes from the definition of medical emergencies "psychological conditions, emotional conditions, familial conditions, or the woman's age."

Similar heartbeat bills have been considered in Kentucky and Ohio [JURIST reports] in the last two years, with Ohio's governor rejecting such a bill in December 2016. The Republican-majority House and Republican Governor Kim Reynolds [official website] have yet [AP report] to comment on the bill.

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