Iowa Senate committee approves bill aimed at banning abortions after fetal heartbeat is detected

(Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)Anti-abortion and pro-choice activists gather at the Supreme Court for the National March for Life rally in Washington.

An Iowa Senate committee has passed a measure that would ban most abortions in the state after the unborn baby's heartbeat is detected.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-5 on Monday to approve Senate Study Bill 3143, which would make it a felony for physicians to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which can be as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.

According to Life News, the bill would require doctors to test for the fetal heartbeat prior to an abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, an abortion cannot be performed except in the case of a medical emergency.

Those who are in found to be in violation could face a Class D felony charge and could be jailed for up to five years. However, the pregnant woman who sought an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) criticized the measure, saying it would discourage doctors from practicing in the state and warned that it will result in Iowa losing its only medical residency program to train obstetricians/gynecologists.

She also said that if the bill is enacted into law, Iowa taxpayers may have to pay for legal expenses "for a bill that you know is unconstitutional."

The Iowa Board of Regents has also expressed its opposition to the bill, warning that if it passes, University of Iowa Health Care will not be able to offer comprehensive training for its obstetrician/gynecology residents.

"This will jeopardize its accreditation with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education," said Josh Lehman, a spokesman for the Board of Regents.

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), a supporter of the bill, said that he wanted to find out if the University of Iowa would actually lose accreditation if the legislation is approved. He noted that he had head threats in the past that Iowa would lose its entire Medicaid block grant from the federal government if changes have been made in family planning funding, but he soon learned that it was not true.

The passage of the bill came a year after the Legislature passed a law that prohibited most abortions after 20 weeks. The Iowa Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the state from enforcing provisions in the law that required women to wait a minimum of three days before an abortion.

State Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican, acknowledged that the fetal heartbeat bill will likely face a court challenge if it becomes law.

"Any of us that are strong in the pro life movement understand that not only will this save lives, babies, the long goal is to throw this back into the courts and start the run at [Roe] v. Wade," the lawmaker said.

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