Pro-life sign at St. John’s Catholic Church in Onawa, IA.
Photo credit: Katrina J. Houdek (CC-By-SA 2.0)

The ongoing debate over abortion has little middle ground. Supporters and opponents of abortion have one thing in common: the intensity of emotions and devotion to the cause.

Over the past few years the Iowa Legislature has made several attempts to address abortion and respond to those who see abortion as killing a child in the womb. A few years ago, the Iowa Board of Medicine banned the practice of telemed abortion, where a woman is not even examined in person by a doctor before being sent home with dangerous drugs meant to kill the unborn baby and force delivery without medical assistance. Unfortunately, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the ban.

Last year the Iowa Legislature re-routed women’s health dollars away from facilities which also perform abortions, choosing to send the money statewide to hundreds of other health facilities. We also passed a ban on abortions after the twentieth week, which saved relatively few lives, but was an important step. During the same session, I chaired a subcommittee to define life as starting at conception, effectively outlawing abortion. We made it out of subcommittee, but didn’t have the votes to make it through the full Judiciary committee.

Between sessions, I was approached by friends who were ready to again try to define life as starting at fertilization, but I could only explain we had the same people in office and we ran into problems a new bill wouldn’t address. You see, after over forty years in America with the scourge of abortion being normalized, many practices and drugs that actually kill the embryo were developed that wouldn’t have under a more moral research environment. Some, but not all, contraceptives are actually abortifacients. This means they work by causing the embryo to die, not by preventing fertilization. In vitro procedures that produce many more fertilized eggs than necessary create a moral dilemma when life is defined as starting at conception. People also mentioned the rape, incest, and health of the mother exceptions the bill did not include, even though those issues can be answered.

Other countries without the pressure of an abortion industry developed different solutions to the drugs and procedures, so it can be done. After a full generation of our procedures being normalized, I don’t see our society being ready to move to the end goal immediately, and it disappoints me to say that. This is where SSB 3143, the fetal heartbeat bill, comes into the picture.

The heartbeat bill would make it illegal to do an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound. While the baby’s heart starts beating eighteen to twenty-two days after it’s conceived, the heartbeat can’t be detected by ultrasound until six to nine weeks after the mother’s last period. So this bill doesn’t set a hard number in law, it requires an ultrasound before any abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor must inform the mother the abortion cannot proceed. The bill leaves open that if a medical emergency exists, the abortion may continue.

The penalty in the bill applies only to the abortionist, never to the mother. If the abortionist is found to have completed a prohibited abortion, it is a Class “D” felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Studies and polls have found for at least twenty years, American culture has been moving toward life and away from abortion. I said earlier, I am finding our society isn’t to the point of outlawing abortion. That day may come, and it may not. I’ll leave that to the church and the citizens. But I do believe our society has moved to where the heartbeat bill is an acceptable position for the majority of Iowans. Any of us can understand that just as a man’s life is ended when his heartbeat stops, we also know a little girl or boy is alive and growing when we hear their heartbeat.

A heartbeat cut-off avoids the discussion of contraceptives and abortifacients, in vitro, rape, and incest. I still believe life begins at fertilization and Roe v. Wade is a bad decision. But my experience in the Legislature tells me this is where we can go in the abortion debate.

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