“A baby has become something we can throw away,” said Republican Sandy Salmon justifying Iowa’s newest abortion bill that seeks to protect the unborn life. The “heartbeat bill” bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected (approximately at six weeks) and prohibits acquiring, providing, receiving, transferring or using fetal tissues in Iowa, making it a Class C felony. Exceptions include cases of rape, fetal abnormalities, threat to a woman’s life and incest. The other aim is to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling of the U.S Supreme Court that recognized women’s constitutional rights to abortion, up until the fetus can survive outside the womb. Courts in the past have refused to hear a “heartbeat challenge”, which has in turn blocked restrictive abortion bills in other states. To overcome this ‘obstacle’, pro-life judges -Justice Anthony M. Kenny, a 81 year old centrist, Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Bayer, aged 85 and 79 respectively are under consideration to be appointed.
The bill has received severe criticism for potentially violating constitutional rights to control one’s own body and to have access to safe health care. Medical experts opposing the bill question the scientific benchmark for the bill that relies solely on detecting the fetal heartbeat, when in fact at six weeks, the heart itself is not a fully formed organ. Among the many undesirable and unfortunate perils witnessed in the past, such as self-induced or “D.I.Y abortions”, the bill inevitably invites expensive and cumbersome litigation. Apart from the legal concerns, banning abortion altogether merely on the basis of cardiac activity and religion will induce life-threatening repercussions for women. The bill takes away from a woman the right to safe medical care and allows politicians instead of doctors to determine the viability of a safe abortion. The issue then is not about banning abortions at six, eleven, fifteen or twenty weeks or considering the heartbeat, it is about banning abortions without a medically justifiable reason. More importantly, the inescapable and alarming self-induced abortion statistics attest to the fact that criminalizing abortions does not prevent one from terminating a pregnancy without medical aid. The bill that proposes to protect life is in fact diametrically opposite to its purpose and is reviving the dark period of “back-alley abortions” when abortions were illegal. Roe v. Wade has been considered to be a sound decision protecting the rights of women and it ought to stand as it is. As of now, the bill awaits the signature of the governor before it becomes a law.