By Isabella Rosario
Recently approved by the Republican-led Iowa Senate, Senate Study Bill 3143 would ban most abortions in Iowa after the detection of a fetal heartbeat — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill only makes an exception if the woman’s life is in danger. Any physician who knowingly performs an abortion past that point could be charged with a felony and spend up to five years in prison.
More than 40 years after Roe v. Wade, legislators across the country are still entrenched in the debate over when human life begins. And just a slight majority of the public are in favor of abortion rights; 57 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 40 percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. If the heartbeat bill passes the House, it will almost certainly be challenged in court as being unconstitutional.
But while some continue to question the legitimacy of a woman’s right to choose, the heartbeat bill’s logistical inequities and inevitable degradation of women’s health care in Iowa are glaringly clear. And that these issues weren’t enough for the Senate to vote against it says a lot about how Iowa Republicans prioritize women’s health.
The banning of abortion at the detection of a fetal heartbeat is medically problematic from the start. Lisa Banitt, an obstetrician/gynecologist, spoke to the Senate floor about different factors complicating abdominal ultrasounds. Obesity and structural issues in the uterus, such as fibroids and retroversion, can delay a fetal heartbeat detection. The bill ignores the diversity of the human body — and that such harsh criminal consequences are at stake makes this simplification totally reckless.
“Not every woman is the same. Not every woman has the same anatomy. And so not every woman is going to have the same gestational age at which the heartbeat can be detected. Therefore, this is not going to be applied equally to all women,” Banitt said.
And SSB3143’s most potentially devastating and widespread effects will affect health care for all women in Iowa. If passed, it will cost Iowa its only accredited obstetrics/gynecology residency program. The UI program is certified by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which requires abortion training to be part of the curriculum.
Iowa already ranks nationally low in the number of obstetricians/gynecologists per women of reproductive age, tying for 46 out of 50 states, according to the Department of Human Services. In addition to losing future obstetricians/gynecologists trained in-state, it’s more than reasonable to infer that a possible felony charge for patient treatment will drive away other physicians from practicing in Iowa.
This isn’t the first time the Iowa GOP has promoted irresponsible legislation at the expense of women’s health. Last year, lawmakers ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to forgo $3.3 million in federal Medicaid funding to defund clinics that provide abortions. As a result, four Planned Parenthood clinics closed across the state, and Iowa’s family-planning program’s enrollment dropped by 50 percent, according to the Associated Press.
Whether or not you oppose a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, Iowa Republicans have made one thing clear: Efforts to undercut abortion access always supersede the health and equity of female constituents outside the womb.