Iowa lawmakers pass secret abortion bill in the dead of night

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'They've kept this plan secret for weeks and released it on a Saturday night so they didn't have to hear from Iowans,' House Democratic Whip Jo Oldson said.

Last weekend, Iowa legislators stayed up all night working on the state's budget and key policy priorities as their legislative session came to a close for the year. They also used that time to push through a 24-hour waiting period before a person can obtain an abortion.

Republican GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, a longtime abortion opponent who once proposed an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would have banned abortion, has not said outright she will sign the bill on the waiting period, but she has indicated its passage was one of her key legislative priorities

Both legislative bodies passed the bill within just a few hours, with the House passing it just before midnight on Saturday and the Senate passing it at 5:30 the next morning. It requires that physicians confirm at least 24 hours before performing an abortion that the patient has undergone an ultrasound, received an opportunity to view and hear a description of the ultrasound, and been given information about carrying the pregnancy to term, giving up a child for adoption, and the risks associated with abortion.

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Save for the length of the waiting period, the bill is in all respects identical to a 72-hour waiting period bill passed in 2018. That bill was declared unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court, but the composition of the court has changed since then, with Reynolds having appointed four new conservative justices to the seven-member panel. 

Democratic members of Iowa's legislature pointed out the absurdity and poor timing of the bills.

"They've kept this plan secret for weeks and released it on a Saturday night so they didn't have to hear from Iowans," House Democratic Whip Jo Oldson said.

State Sen. Janet Petersen said the legislators had imposed a 24-hour period but "didn't even give women 24 hours' notice that you would be stripping them of their rights." 

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said, "It's appalling to see my GOP colleagues exploit this moment of national pandemic to advance an ideological agenda that is out of touch with Iowans."

This wasn't the only time that conservatives in the Iowa legislature had tried to use the pandemic to push through an anti-abortion agenda. In late March, Reynolds imposed a ban on all "nonessential and elective" procedures and said that included abortions. The ban was later modified to allow surgical abortions in some instances. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that waiting periods for abortions are unnecessary, and the Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion policies, notes that waiting periods are designed to make abortion less accessible.

One study showed that delays in receiving abortion care end up being much longer than an actual waiting period. After Utah imposed a 72-hour waiting period, the delay amounted to an average of eight days between the required counseling and the actual abortion. Additionally, waiting periods ensure people have to make at least two trips to visit an abortion provider, pushing the abortion later into pregnancy and potentially making it more costly. 

An examination of abortion costs in Tennessee, where there is a 48-hour mandatory waiting period, found that it could increase the cost of an abortion up to $929. People also have to plan for the potential extra costs incurred for lodging if the clinic is far away, transportation for two trips, child care for a longer period, and lost wages from needing to take time off for travel. That same study also found that more than 60% of patients got abortions later than they did on average before the waiting period was established.

Iowa's imposition of a waiting period is only one of several barriers the state has imposed in a quest to make abortion more difficult to obtain. The state already has a mandatory notice provision that requires parents of a minor to be notified before the minor can obtain an abortion. Abortion after 20 weeks is banned, which, Guttmacher notes, "is based on the assertion, which is inconsistent with scientific evidence and has been rejected by the medical community, that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy."

Furthermore, Iowa is down to only nine clinics that provide abortion care, and 93% of all counties in the state don't have a provider, making access even more difficult if people live far away from any of the nine clinics still operating.

Increased barriers and increased costs can lead to abortions later in pregnancy, or to people being unable to obtain an abortion at all. Should Iowa's latest attempt to impose a waiting period be declared constitutional by the state Supreme Court, more Iowans may find abortion out of reach. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.