By Barb Arland-Fye
A bill that would require clinics providing late-term abortions to obtain a certificate of need and to be located near an Iowa hospital with a neonatal center has passed the Iowa Senate.
Senate File (SF) 534 Abortion Facility Requirements was approved on a party-line vote, 26-23. All Democrats supported the bill and all Republicans were opposed during voting May 16. The bill now goes to the Iowa House. If the bill were to become law, it would be permissible to build such clinics in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport. It would not include Council Bluffs, where a late-term abortion provider has threatened to open a clinic.
The Senate also voted down a motion to bring House File (HF) 657 Late-term abortions bill to the floor on a party-line vote.
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) in its weekly update says SF 534 is intended as an alternative to House File (HF) 657. It has the support of Democrats in the Senate as a way to make it more difficult for an abortion provider to enter the state and open a late-term clinic. But Senate Republicans generally oppose the bill because they say it does not prohibit late-term abortions and would not prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a late-term abortion provider, from setting up a clinic in one of the Iowa cities that would qualify under the bill, the ICC reported.
State Sen. Paul McKinley, a Republican from Chariton, released a statement on the passage of SF 534, which was included in the May 16 Around the Capitol bulletin of the Iowa Legislative News Service:
“I am extraordinarily disappointed that all 26 Iowa Senate Democrats, without the support of a single Senate Republican, voted to open the door and lay down the welcome mat to Dr. LeRoy Carhart and other late-term abortionists to come to Iowa. The legislation passed today will not protect the lives of any of our most innocent in society and instead opens up Iowa to becoming the ‘Late-Term Abortion Mecca of the Midwest.’
“Senate Republicans are steadfastly supportive of protecting all life and we remain adamant that (Senate Majority Leader Mike) Gronstal quit his political games and actually bring up the bi-partisan legislation that has already passed the Iowa House that will firmly slam the door on LeRoy Carhart and others like him.”
Iowa Legislative News Service reported that Sen. Gronstal, who is from Council Bluffs, said SF 534 came about because he has listened to his constituents on the issue. “He said that SF 534 is constitutional and that given the relatively small number of late-term abortions in Iowa, he is confident that a certificate of need will not be approved for anyone seeking to open a late-term abortion clinic.”
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, earlier this month introduced a Senate Study Bill which became SF 534. In a news release he said the proposed bill “uses the Certificate of Need process to ensure that a new abortion facility which performs abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization is in close proximity to an Iowa hospital with the appropriate level of perinatal care to protect the life or health of the woman and the fetus.
“As we engage in this debate, we need to be honest about the circumstances under which a woman pursues these procedures. In 2009, there were only 6 abortions in Iowa that occurred after 20 weeks, and all of them involved some kind of medical complication,” he said in a news release.
“This bill protects the life and health of the mother and the fetus when a woman is faced with this terrible choice. What it doesn’t do is meddle in a family’s gut-wrenching decision about what to do when a planned pregnancy goes terribly wrong,” Sen. Bolkcom said.
SF 534 could make it difficult for Dr. LeRoy Carhart or other late-term abortion providers to be granted a certificate of need, ICC Executive Director Tom Chapman said, but the ICC prefers HF 657 as a better solution. That bill would prohibit abortion with limited exceptions after the unborn child reaches a post-fertilization age of 20 weeks. The restriction on abortion contains exceptions for the life of the mother or for the serious risk of her substantial and irreversible physical impairment. The bill is based on the information that the unborn child has the physical structure to feel pain. Iowa’s current prohibition of abortions after the second trimester is unenforceable because of the exception which allows abortions to “preserve the life or health of the mother.” In practice, “health” can be defined as anything by the physician.
Chapman acknowledged that “The creation and passage of legislation under the best of circumstances is never an easy process and sometimes incremental steps ultimately save lives.”