Doulas of Des Moines
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The Doula Dish

Iowa's New Abortion Restrictions

Update: The 72-hour waiting period was ruled by the Iowa Supreme Court to be unconstitutional and has been thrown out. The rest of the law, however, still stands. It's also important to know that on May 4th, 2018, Governor Reynolds signed a separate abortion ban into law—one of the most restrictive in the United States—which bans most abortions after about 6 weeks of pregnancy. A temporary injunction is currently blocking the law from being enforced during the legal battle that has now begun.

This morning, Governor Branstad signed into law severe restrictions on healthcare for pregnant people. We would like to shed some light on what these new restrictions mean for Iowans, but we first want to acknowledge that this is a deeply emotional topic for many of us. This blog discusses a number of topics that may be upsetting or triggering to some, and so we encourage you to be kind to yourself as you read it (or in deciding whether to read it at all). If you need some space from this topic, or find it to be too upsetting, please step away and practice some self care as needed.

So what is SF 471, and who does it affect?

Senate File 471:

  • Requires mandatory ultrasounds and that the pregnant person be offered the options to view the ultrasound, listen to the heartbeat (if detectable), and/or hear a description of the ultrasound
  • Requires “counseling” consisting of biased information including the promotion of adoption as preferred over abortion
  • Mandates that a pregnant person must wait 72 hours after their ultrasound before obtaining an abortion
  • Bans abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization (22 weeks gestation)
  • Makes exceptions only for medical emergencies and abortions that are necessary to save the life of the pregnant person. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomalies (even fatal ones)

In a nutshell, SF 471 restricts access to abortion in Iowa. If you don’t support abortion to begin with, that may not sound like such a bad thing, but there is a lot more to the story. This law disproportionately affects pregnant people who are low-income, are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, and those who are faced with a diagnosis of severe (even fatal) fetal anomalies.

You may be wondering why someone would have an abortion so late in the first place. Aren’t they just being irresponsible to wait so long?

The truth is, there are many factors that could contribute to a person choosing to have an abortion later in pregnancy (including restrictions that make it harder and take longer to obtain an abortion in the first place). Oftentimes, though, we’re talking about wanted pregnancies and families who receive devastating news at their routine anatomy scan.

The anatomy scan (often referred to as the 20-week ultrasound) is an eagerly anticipated appointment for many expectant parents because it’s a chance to get a better look and even find out the sex (if they choose to) of their growing baby. The true purpose of this ultrasound, though, is to check if the pregnancy is developing normally. Usually, this is a fun and reassuring ultrasound, but when things aren’t developing as expected, expectant parents can find themselves faced with impossibly difficult decisions. Decisions like whether to carry to term and birth a baby that has no chance at surviving outside of the womb.

There is no single “right” decision in a situation like that (or, frankly, in any situation where a person is making decisions about their own body and health care). These are deeply personal decisions and everyone deserves the opportunity to decide what is best for their own family.

In addition to banning all abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization (except in very rare circumstances in which the pregnancy is a significant danger to the pregnant person), SF 471 imposes a variety of hurdles and medically unnecessary requirements to all Iowans seeking abortion care. Waiting periods of at least 72 hours mean multiple trips to a healthcare provider (something that can be extremely difficult if you aren’t able to take off work, can’t afford childcare for your other children, or are trying to maintain confidentiality—which may be vitally important to domestic abuse victims).

As usual, those of us with the most privilege are the least affected. Those with access to transportation, childcare, and paid time off—to name a few—will still be able access abortion care. Many of us can travel to another state if we need to end a pregnancy after 20 weeks. Those with less privilege and without adequate access to transportation, childcare, paid time off, and support will suffer the most.

Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit fighting the 72-hour waiting period. Their request for an emergency injunction (to keep the rule from going into effect) was denied by District Court Judge Jeffery Farrell on Thursday, but later approved by the Iowa Supreme Court. This temporarily blocks the 72-hour waiting period requirement.

SF 471 restricts the choices of pregnant Iowans and strips grieving families of the right to decide how to best care for their own families. We hope this law will never affect you, but we know it will affect (and has already affected) many individuals and families throughout Iowa. Whether this law affects you or not, and whether you support the law or are outraged by it, we are here to support you.

Doulas of Des Moines is a group of doulas working to support individuals and families throughout the Des Moines Metro area. As individuals, we have differing opinions and viewpoints. But we cannot claim to offer unbiased, non-judgemental care while also advocating to restrict your ability to make decisions about your own body. When we say non-judgemental and unbiased support, we mean it. Whether you would never, under any circumstances consider intentionally ending a pregnancy, you wouldn’t hesitate to end a pregnancy for any reason, or—like most people—you fall somewhere in between, we support you and we honor your story.

You can read SF 471 in it’s entirety here:

If you’d like to make your voice heard about this important issue, please contact your legislators and/or join with others in your community to create positive change.

Information about Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit:

EmmaRose Benne