May 11, 2011 — In the coming days, the Iowa Legislature likely will reach a compromise on a House-approved bill (HF 657) aimed at blocking the establishment of an abortion clinic that would offer the procedure in the second half of pregnancy, according to state Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D), a key participant in the negotiations, the AP/Globe Gazette reports. Unlike the House measure, the compromise bill is not expected to include a provision that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Bolkcom, who is the floor manager for the measure in the Senate, said the House bill is "unconstitutional and overly broad." The House version would ban abortion after 20 weeks unless a doctor certifies that the case is a medical emergency.
The legislation comes in response to plans by Nebraska physician LeRoy Carhart to open a clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that would offer abortion care in the second half of pregnancy. Carhart has said he decided to cease practicing in Nebraska because of a state law banning abortion after 20 weeks.
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal (D) has indicated that he will allow debate on the measure when Bolkcom indicates that there is support for it (Glover, AP/Globe Gazette, 5/9).
Neb. Legislature Advances Ban on Use of Telemedicine for Medication Abortion
The Nebraska Legislature on Tuesday voted 34-9 to give preliminary approval to a bill (LB 521) that would bar the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The measure is aimed at blocking Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from replicating a program that uses telemedicine to provide medication abortion services in 16 Iowa clinics (Hammel/Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, 5/10). Through that program, a woman seeking abortion care receives an ultrasound and examination from a nurse and then consults with a physician via the Internet on a private computer. If the physician determines that the patient is an appropriate candidate for medication abortion, he or she dispenses the medication remotely by pressing a button that opens a container containing the drugs at the patient's location (Schulte, AP/MSN Money, 5/10).
The Nebraska bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Fulton, states that clinics must have a physician physically present to supervise the administration of medication abortion (Hammel/Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, 5/10). Physicians who violate the measure would face felony charges (AP/MSN Money, 5/10).
Opponents of the bill said the measure is unconstitutional because it blocks health care for women. State Sen. Danielle Conrad said the bill contains vague language that "opens the door" for a state ban on contraception (Omaha World-Herald, 5/10).
Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Brad Ashford said the measure would create an undue burden on women and would effectively ban abortion before seven weeks of pregnancy, which is when medication abortion can be used. He also said the bill would force physicians to remain with women continuously until the abortion is complete, which could take days.
The bill must be approved by the legislature in two more rounds of voting before it can go to Gov. Dave Heineman (R) (AP/MSN Money, 5/10).
NPR Examines State Antiabortion Bills
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday examined the large volume of antiabortion-rights bills proposed in state legislatures this year. According to the Guttmacher Institute, lawmakers in 48 states have introduced a total of 570 bills to restrict abortion rights.
Jill June of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said of the bills, "They're dangerous bills for women because they take nothing into consideration regarding the health and welfare of the women." She added, "It's very sad. It's very political. It's very misguided."
"All Things Considered" discussed bills in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska (Lohr, "All Things Considered," NPR, 5/10).