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DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate had an emotional debate about abortion Tuesday night, ending when all 29 Republicans, two Democrats and the independent in the senate voted for a bill that would forbid most abortions after a pregnancy reaches its 20th week.
“Senators as we cast this important vote…it’s my hope and it’s my prayer that some day down the road, maybe 20 years from now, maybe a young girl will come up to you and say: ‘Thanks for my life,’” said Senator Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa.
Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, said the “dialogue” around the abortion issue has always “perplexed” him.
“At 20 weeks it feels pain. It has a heartbeat and it is a girl or it is a boy,” Feenstra said. “The question I’ve always asked myself is: ‘Why shouldn’t that life have rights?’”
Feenstra was among 16 Republicans senators who publicly indicated they wanted to go farther and pass legislation that would essentially ban all abortions in Iowa and, perhaps, set up a legal challenge of the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. Senator Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, expressed frustration.
“It’s the goal of sending it back to where this horrific practice began, which was the Supreme Court. We could have put that on a path tonight, but we didn’t,” Bertrand said. “We’ll do it next time.”
Republican Senator Jack Chapman of Adel unsuccessfully tried to force an up-or-down senate vote that would have given legal protection to a human egg at the moment of conception.
“I recognize that there are difficult situations with unplanned pregnancies, but let us remember this — the answer to these situation is this: ‘She is a baby,”” Chapman said.
Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines who voted against the bill, delivered a stillborn baby more than a decade ago after a knot formed in the umbilical cord.
“This is probably one of the most mean-spirited bills I’ve seen yet this year and we’ve seen a lot of mean-spirited bills,” Petersen said. “I get the calls from women who get the devastating blow that their baby is not going to make it.”
Petersen and other critics of the bill say fewer than one percent of abortions are performed after the 20th week of a pregnancy because the baby would not survive outside the womb or because the mother’s health is threatened.
“You are not doctors,” Petersen said. “We are politicians messing in an area which we have no business to be involved in.”
Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, said the bill would “hinder medical care.”
“When a woman is faced with the gut-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy she had hoped would end with a healthy new baby, she should not also be faced with laws that unnecessarily limit her options,” Bolkcom said.
Current Iowa law bans abortions after 27 weeks. This stricter ban would have to clear the Iowa House before it reaches the governor’s desk. Governor Branstad has expressed support for new abortion restrictions at the state level.