Iowa could pass one of 'the most restrictive' abortion laws in the US

PHOTO: Representative Brian Meyer of Polk County questions Representative Shannon Lundgren of Dubuque on the floor of the Iowa House Tuesday, May 1, 2018.PlayZach Boyden-Holmes/Des Moines Register via USAToday Network
WATCH Iowa could pass one of 'the most restrictive' abortion laws in the US

A new bill that has passed the Iowa state legislature could limit abortions to the first weeks of a pregnancy.

The bill, which has passed the state's House and Senate, but needs approval by the governor before becoming law, would limit abortions to before a fetal heartbeat is detected.

PHOTO: Republican Reps. Steve King, Rod Blum and David Young of Iowa attend a rally for Iowans in Russell Building prior to the anti-abortion March for Life on the Mall in Washington on Jan. 19, 2018. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images, FILE
Republican Reps. Steve King, Rod Blum and David Young of Iowa attend a rally for Iowans in Russell Building prior to the anti-abortion March for Life on the Mall in Washington on Jan. 19, 2018.

A heartbeat can generally be heard at about the sixth week of a pregnancy, though it can vary. Many women may not realize they are pregnant in such a short time frame since there may not be any outward signs and they may or may not have missed periods.

But if this bill is approved, women in Iowa would not be able to have an abortion in the state if they find out later than six weeks of gestation.

"I think this is probably the most restrictive law that's currently out there," said Dr. Hal Lawrence from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "I think it's going to be potentially dangerous."

According to the text of the bill, the only exception would be for cases when an abortion is "performed in a medical emergency" in order to "preserve the life of the mother."

Medical concerns

Lawrence noted that some women have irregular periods, so those who have that issue might not realize they have missed a period at all when they are in the first weeks of pregnancy.

"They're going to come in thinking they just missed a period. But in reality, they will be almost eight weeks pregnant," Lawrence told ABC News.

He said it's also not uncommon for women to have a lighter period in the first weeks of pregnancy, which could be written off as normal.

"It's a problem because, by then, you will definitely be able to see fetal cardiac activity," Lawrence said.

The proposed timeframe "takes away their decision-making time. It's a huge impact to women. It's a ban basically to a legal procedure and that's highly problematic," he added.

The definition of a "medical emergency" that would allow an abortion to be performed could also be problematic, he said.

The current iteration of the bill doesn't specify if that would include ectopic pregnancies, which occur outside of the woman's uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are not necessarily an immediate threat to the mother, but they will be later in the pregnancy.

Lawrence said that the bill as it stands now does not make it clear if the law will "prevent you from dealing with those pregnancies" until the situation eventually becomes life-threatening.

"Does that mean you have to wait to treat it until you have an acute situation?" he said.

Access to abortions

Lawrence noted that if passed into law, the restriction on abortion would be particularly detrimental to women living in rural areas.

According to The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group that previously operated under Planned Parenthood, in 2014 some 89 percent of Iowa counties had no clinics that provided abortions and 42 percent of the women in the state lived in those counties.

There were 13 abortion-providing facilities in the state that year, The Guttmacher Institute reported -- a result of a decline in the number of clinics from prior years, dropping by 28 percent from 2011 when there were 18 abortion providers in the state.

"Iowa has some pretty large rural areas and there may be women in those large rural areas who may not be able to even come see an ob-gyn for several months," Lawrence said.

PHOTO: Coalition for Life of Iowa member Ron Digmann walks in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic, May 21, 2013, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP, FILE
Coalition for Life of Iowa member Ron Digmann walks in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic, May 21, 2013, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"It's all about what their transportation status is and their financial status," he said, adding that poorer women will always be more affected by such restrictions.

"People with means will be able to go and receive the treatment that they want wherever they need to go and receive it, whether its in their city, their state, or their country," Lawrence said.

Political points of view

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to receive the bill within the next couple of days, according to her spokeswoman Brenna Smith.

The governor has not directly commented on the bill and whether or not she will sign it into law, but Smith reiterated today that Reynolds, who is a Republican, is unequivocally pro-life.

"Gov. Reynolds is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn. The governor's office has not received the bill from the legislature to review it. The governor does not comment on any bill until she sees it in its final form," Smith told ABC News in a statement this afternoon.

PHOTO: Representative Brian Meyer of Polk County questions Representative Shannon Lundgren of Dubuque on the floor of the Iowa House Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Zach Boyden-Holmes/Des Moines Register via USAToday Network
Representative Brian Meyer of Polk County questions Representative Shannon Lundgren of Dubuque on the floor of the Iowa House Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Planned Parenthood issued a statement slamming the bill, saying that it is one of a string of abortion-denying laws being put forward on the local level during the Trump administration.

"Let’s be clear about what this bill really is -- it’s an extreme and draconian policy that takes aim at a woman’s right to control her own body, life, and future," Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

"This bill is one more example of state politicians, emboldened by the Trump-Pence administration, carrying out policy after policy that strip away people’s freedoms and access to care. The right to control your body includes the right to access safe, legal abortion. Your body is your own, if it is not, we cannot be truly free or equal," Laguens added.