by Chuck Hurley
The following column was first published in the Sept. 25, 2022, edition of the Des Moines Register.
Earlier this month, the Des Moines Register published an essay expressing confusion about Iowa’s heartbeat law. The author, Jeanne Liston, shared the wrenching story of two miscarriages. How she needed emergency care. How she wanted her children to survive.
Ms. Liston also shared a mistaken fear that, if Iowa’s heartbeat law would go into effect, she would have somehow been in more danger.
Thank you, Ms. Liston, for sharing your story. And thanks to the Register for this opportunity to let all Iowans know that our state law protects children without putting mothers at risk.
Iowans need to know that our state law, including the heartbeat law, ensures doctors can treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
Since 2017, Iowa law has protected against late-term abortions after 20 weeks gestation, by which time an unborn baby has a unique heartbeat, unique fingerprints, and can suck his or her thumb.
The 20-week law, in Chapter 146B.2.2a, explicitly allows doctors to act “to preserve the life of the pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy,” even if that action will kill the unborn child.
No woman has been stopped from receiving treatment for a miscarriage in Iowa under the 20-week law. No law, current or currently proposed, would prevent a doctor from treating an ectopic pregnancy or saving a woman’s life. And similarly, no woman needs to fear the heartbeat law, because the same protections apply.
In 2018, the Iowa Legislature passed the heartbeat law, protecting unborn children by prohibiting abortion after their heartbeat becomes detectable, around six to eight weeks gestation. The law was blocked by a Polk County judge before it could take effect, but it is back in the news, as a court is now reconsidering whether the law should remain blocked in light of recent legal changes.
Iowa’s heartbeat law contains the exact same language protecting the mother’s life as the 20-week law. In fact, it includes even more exceptions (Chapter 146C.1.4) than the 20-week law, which has been in force for more than five years.
According to a review by the Lozier Institute, the laws in every single U.S. state (including Iowa), ensure doctors can continue to treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. These laws are about protecting unborn children and women. About saving as many lives as possible.
That’s why Iowans spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours helping at pregnancy centers around the state. It’s why Iowa funds a $5,000 refundable adoption tax credit, and why our legislators passed the More Options for Maternal Support Act last session to help support women and families around the state with counseling and material assistance such as diapers and baby formula.
Iowa women can know that the hysteria they are hearing is false. Doctors should be assured that they can continue to treat miscarriages and life-threatening conditions arising from pregnancy. No law passed in Iowa has ever changed that.
Chuck Hurley is vice president and chief legal counsel for The FAMiLY Leader.