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Iowa lawmakers' special session is aimed at further restricting abortion


Abortion is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in Iowa right now. Republicans who are in the supermajority in the state legislature want to reduce that to about six weeks, with some exceptions. So the governor, Republican Kim Reynolds, has called lawmakers back to the Capitol in Des Moines. Iowa Public Radio's Grant Gerlock will be there. So, Grant, what are Republicans looking to do?

GRANT GERLOCK, BYLINE: Lawmakers plan to take up a so-called fetal heartbeat bill. And that would ban abortions in Iowa after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, which happens around six weeks. There are exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, the life of the mother and if there are lethal abnormalities. This bill is actually a repeat for Iowa. It's nearly identical to a law that passed back in 2018, which at the time was the strictest passed in the country, except that that law never took effect. It was blocked in court in part because Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land at that time. And then last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in the Dobbs decision. So that's one reason this abortion ban is coming up again in Iowa. Another reason is that things changed at the state level, too. Just before that Dobbs decision came down, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned its own previous ruling that protected abortion rights in the state. So those two rulings cleared the way for new stricter laws on abortion here. And the governor called this special session to basically put that 2018 law back on the books.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, that law wound up at the state Supreme Court. So is it possible any legislation passed today would end up right back there?

GERLOCK: That's basically what's expected to happen. If this bill passes, abortion providers in Iowa say they plan to immediately challenge it, just like they did that previous law. And they hope it's struck down, too. They call this proposal a near-total ban on abortion because most women don't even know they're pregnant at six weeks. At the same time, these providers are planning for what happens in their clinics if this bill passes because it would take effect immediately. Sarah Traxler is the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood for this region.

SARAH TRAXLER: We will do our best to challenge it. We will comply while it is in effect, but we will still provide abortion care in the state of Iowa up to what is legal.

GERLOCK: So Traxler says they're preparing to advise people who are beyond six weeks of pregnancy to refer them to abortion providers in other states where they could still have the procedure.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So elected Republicans in Iowa are pushing for this. What about the voters there? How do they feel about abortion restrictions?

GERLOCK: Most actually support abortion rights. A statewide poll by the Des Moines Register in March found 61% of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. However, that's not reflected in the makeup of the legislature right now. Republicans hold majorities in both chambers and control the governor's office. And Iowa Republicans say they've been campaigning on restricting abortion, but voters put them in charge. When she announced the special session, Governor Kim Reynolds said in a statement that she was proud to sign that law in 2018, and she'll continue to fight what she called the inhumanity of abortion. So abortion rights supporters are planning to demonstrate at the Capitol. But as loud as they may be, Republicans have the votes. And based on the schedule they've laid out, they plan to pass this bill today.

MARTÍNEZ: Iowa Public Radio's Grant Gerlock in Des Moines. Grant, thanks.

GERLOCK: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Grant Gerloch