GOP senators try again on 72-hour abortion waiting period

Iowa Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, said he supports a bill that reintroduced a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Republicans are reintroducing a measure that would require pregnant women to wait 72 hours before undergoing an abortion, similar to a law that was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018.

Senate File 2215 requires women who want an abortion to undergo an ultrasound at least three days before it’s performed. Republicans believe the new bill will have a better chance of surviving if it’s brought to the Iowa Supreme Court again because new justices have been appointed. Also, the bill  incorporates language from a similar ultrasound law that was upheld in Kentucky.

The bill is one of several dealing with abortion rights that senators are trying to get through committee before this week’s legislative deadline. A House subcommittee moved a bill Tuesday to require abortion clinics to get a new, $2,000 regulatory license.

During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, said the bill is about making sure women are informed prior to getting an abortion.

Whiting said Iowa couples are required to wait 72 hours for marriage and 90 days to finalize a divorce. He said women should also wait several days before an abortion.

“The bill does not prevent an abortion,” Whiting said. “It merely provides information to a pregnant woman to ensure she can provide informed consent and understand the options that are available to her.”

New provisions in the bill require medical providers to tell women what the ultrasound is showing, where the fetus is in her uterus, its dimensions and if external members and internal organs are visible.

Physicians must also display the ultrasound and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat. A woman may avert her eyes and or request the volume be lowered or turned off. The woman and the physician will not be penalized if she chooses not to listen or view the ultrasound.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said the bill’s current language subjects women suffering miscarriages to a waiting period and ultrasound. Whiting said he does not interpret it the same way and said that’s not the bill’s intention.

She also said women and girls will be required to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, the most “invasive” practice, if legislators are requiring women to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat.

A transvaginal ultrasound is performed inside of the vagina, while a typical ultrasound is over the abdomen.

“I would throw this in a garbage can,” Petersen said of the bill. “That’s what I would do with it.”

Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said the bill does not provide women more information, but it interferes with patient-provider relationships.

“This bill is clearly not about health care,” Davison-Rippey said. “This bill is clearly about shaming a person for their decision to end their pregnancy because it assumes they have not thought about their decision or that providers are not giving them information.”

Although a constitutional amendment is moving through the Legislature to try to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who introduced the bill, said he felt it was still an important issue to Iowans.

“I’m not patient,” Zaun said. “There’s no guarantee the constitutional amendment is going to pass the next general assembly, let alone the voters vote for it.”

James Lamb of Lutheran Family Service said he is in favor of the bill and commended legislators for moving it forward.

He said more information will help women and he believes women seeking an abortion would change their minds if they saw an ultrasound or heard a fetal heartbeat.

“Is that what you’re afraid of? That a woman would exercise the right to choose by choosing life instead of death?” Lamb said to Democrats in the room. “I would pray not because that’s a very anti-choice kind of position.”