US abortion rights: Iowa Republicans pass six-week abortion ban bill - when will it come into force?

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There will be some exceptions for cases of rape or incest, but for these to apply, victims must have filed a report with the police or a health organisation within a limited time period

Lawmakers in Iowa in the US have voted to ban most abortions after six weeks - a time before the majority of women know they are pregnant.

The bill, which campaigners have argued amounts to an effective abortion ban, passed with exclusively Republican support after a rare, one-day legislative session - which Governor Kim Reynolds said she called for the “sole purpose” of enacting “pro-life” legislation. She said she will sign the bill on Friday (14 July), after which point it will immediately come into effect, remarking: “Justice for the unborn should not be delayed.”

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The new legislation will prohibit abortions after the first sign of cardiac activity, which is usually at around six weeks. There will be some exceptions for cases of rape or incest, but for these to apply, the rape must have been reported to law enforcement or a “public or private health agency” within 45 days - and the incest must have been reported to any of those officials within 140 days. Under certain conditions of “medical emergency”, abortions will be allowed for up until 20 weeks.

Iowa’s ruling is the latest in a raft of anti-abortion laws which have passed n the US since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V Wade last year, eliminating the nationwide constitutional right to abortion. A number of states, including several in the south of the US, a have passed full bans on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

During the floor debate on Tuesday (11 July), lawmakers heard from a range of medical professionals, reproductive rights activists, religious organisations, and campaign groups - all of whom gave their opinion on the bill.

Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators gather in front of the US Supreme Court on 1 December, 2021 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty ImagesPro-choice and pro-life demonstrators gather in front of the US Supreme Court on 1 December, 2021 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images
Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators gather in front of the US Supreme Court on 1 December, 2021 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Amy Bingaman, an obstetrician and gynecologist, told those gathered that by forcing a woman to continue with her pregnancy, they would be forcing her into “a lifelong obligation which affects her education, career, family and community.”

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Connie Ryan, the executive director of the nonprofit Iowa Interfaith Alliance, added that “abortion is normal, safe, lifesaving health care” - and told the floor that “Iowa is not a theocracy.”

But things became contentious when Republican Brad Sherman countered that those “not ready to have a baby shouldn’t have sex”, adding that “a lot of people need to review their birds and bees.” There was also some conflict outside the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, where hundreds of demonstrators from both sides had gathered - some shouting “bans off our bodies” or “vote them out” and others yelling “abortion is murder.”

Planned Parenthood suggested it would challenge the measure in court, with Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of the charity’s North Central States, remarking: “This is not the end of our fight for safe and legal abortion and reproductive healthcare. We will exhaust all options to ensure Iowans have control of their bodily autonomy, now and for generations to come.”

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood North Central States has said it will refer patients out of state if they are scheduled for abortions in the coming weeks. The organisation, which is the largest abortion provider in the state, will also continue to provide care to patients who present before cardiac activity is detected, a spokesperson added.

According to a Des Moines Register survey from last year, 61% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in “all or most cases”.

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