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Iowa Politics Roundup: Senate Democrats Approve Alternative Abortion Bill PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Wednesday, 18 May 2011 08:37

In a contentious debate that lasted less than two hours, all 26 Iowa Senate Democrats stuck together Monday in resisting numerous attempts by Republicans to force a vote on a late-term abortion ban and instead approved an alternative approach that opponents criticized as falling fall short.

On a party-line 26-23 vote, Iowa senators Monday evening approved Senate File 534, a bill aimed at keeping Nebraska Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a late-term-abortion clinic in Council Bluffs. The Iowa Senate then joined the House in adjourning for the week.

The bill would require a new abortion facility that performs abortions after 20 weeks to obtain a “certificate of need” and be near an Iowa hospital with the appropriate level of neonatal care to protect the life or health of the woman and fetus.

“Senate File 534 might feel good, but it’s not going to do a darn thing,” said state Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) of the Democratic approach, noting that the bill likely won’t be taken up by the Republican-controlled House.

“We can say that this bill, Senate File 534, is about protecting babies or protecting mothers, but when the House and Senate fail to do anything, the reality is we’re going to have an abortion clinic here,” Chelgren said. “Because we failed to come together to get anything done once again.”

The Iowa House approved a different bill, House File 657, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But state Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) explained why the Senate wasn’t taking up the House bill.

“There’s no meaningful exception for the life of the mother,” he said. “No exception for rape, no exception for incest, and no exception for fetal abnormalities that would prevent the baby from surviving after it’s born.”

Bolkcom said all senators agree on making it more difficult to open a late-term abortion clinic in Iowa. But he maintained the House bill is unconstitutional, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can’t ban abortions of possibly viable fetuses before 24 weeks – and this bill would ban abortions at 20 weeks.

“There is no point in passing an unconstitutional bill that will only embroil Iowa in an expensive court battle,” he said. “I hope that we can come together and focus on passing legislation that is consistent with Iowa values.”

Before the debate began Monday afternoon, state Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) repeatedly shouted “Point of order!” as the state Senate went into session, trying to use procedural moves to force a vote on the House bill.

The attempts by Republicans led to shouting and numerous trips by senators into the Iowa Senate “well,” the area in front of the Senate president’s chair, to discuss parliamentary procedure. State Senate President Jack Kibbie (D-Emmetsburg) urged fellow senators to “have a little patience here.”

One of Sorenson’s motions was forced to a vote. It would have allowed the full Senate to discuss the late-term-abortion bill as if state senators were in committee. But that motion was defeated 23-26.

While Democratic Senators Tom Hancock of Epworth and Joe Seng of Davenport recently signed a petition that forced the House late-term-abortion ban out of committee and onto the Senate floor, the two senators stuck with their caucus Monday in resisting votes on that same bill.

Republicans also offered amendments to effectively ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But Kibbie ruled those amendments were not closely enough aligned with the subject of the bill, which dealt specifically with making new abortion clinics subject to the state’s “certificate of need” process.

Nebraska has approved a ban on late-term abortions similar to the one that Republicans had hoped to pass.

“I think what they did in Nebraska worked,” Governor Terry Branstad said prior to Senate action. “The House-passed bill is patterned after that. To me, that makes a lot of sense.”