Iowa looks at prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions

An ultrasound image shows a fetus in utero.

The 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is Jan. 22. The decision opened the door for the current system of abortion on demand (with very limited exceptions).

Last week saw the introduction of Iowa House File 5, which would prohibit abortion with limited exceptions after a post-fertilization age of 20 weeks in the state of Iowa. The bill is based on the information that the unborn child has the physical structure to feel pain, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC).

The “fetal pain” bill was proposed in response to late-term abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s statement about possibly opening a clinic in Iowa. The Nebraska physician left the state last year after the legislature there passed a law prohibiting abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. He relocated to Maryland, based on a number of factors, including which jurisdiction had the most favorable laws for abortion, Catholic News Service said in December, citing a Washington Post article.

The fetal pain bill introduced in Iowa is similar in scope to Nebraska’s legislation in that it contains exceptions for the life of the mother or for a serious risk of a substantial and irreversible physical impairment of the mother.


As with most legislation, there may be some amendments to the bill as it moves through the process. The ICC will be working to keep the substance of the bill intact.

Iowa’s current prohibition of abortions after 24 weeks is unenforceable because of the exception which allows abortions to “preserve the life and health of the mother.” In practice, “health” can be defined as anything by the physician, Chapman said.

He noted that the Catholic Church calls on everyone to seek the protection of the unborn. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral; its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family.

A subcommittee meeting on the fetal pain bill was to be held Tuesday, Jan. 18, (at press time) in the Iowa House. The ICC was hopeful the bill would pass out to the full House Human Resources Committee, Chapman said.

The ICC asks Iowans to contact their representatives and express support for House File 5. Call the House switchboard at (515) 281-3221 or visit the ICC Action Center at for a sample message.

In other legislative news, Republicans in the Iowa House introduced House File 45, called the “Taxpayers First Act,” which they said would save the state’s budget about $500 million over five years.

Among the items of interest in the HF45 bill:

• The elimination of funding for the current “universal” preschool program with the intention of expanding tuition assistance for preschool based on the parents’ income.

• The ending of all unlawful state benefits to adult unauthorized immigrants.

• A reduction of $10 million from Area Education Agency budgets.

The elimination of the “universal” preschool program would affect some Catholic preschools that currently receive funds from the local public school district to offer preschool that is tuition-free to the parents. Area Education Agency staff members are virtually the only source for special education services for Catholic schools.

The text of the bill is available on the new website of the Iowa General Assembly at Just search for “HF 45.”

Chapman said it would not be surprising if the Senate started over with its own version of the bill which protects “universal” preschool.

A bill related to immigration enforcement, House File 27, was also introduced last week. It calls for the state to set up agreements with the federal government for immigration enforcement. The bill calls for a person in law enforcement in each county to be trained for immigration enforcement at the federal government’s cost.

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