- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy would be illegal in most cases under a bill that advanced Tuesday in the Iowa Legislature, a day after a GOP-led panel approved a separate measure to essentially outlaw abortion altogether.

Besides forbidding pregnancy after 20 weeks, the bill approved by the Senate human resources subcommittee would allow felony charges against doctors who perform abortions after that time. Some exemptions for abortions are included in the bill, and lawmakers indicated that they may want to make amendments.

The 20-week ban is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. Such bans are in effect in more than a dozen states, though others face court challenges. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has gathered evidence that fetal pain is unlikely until weeks later.

Activists gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to urge support for the bills that would restrict abortion rights, focusing on separate legislation approved by a subcommittee Monday that would declare life at conception, effectively banning abortion. If the Legislature were to pass such a law, it would undoubtedly face a stiff court challenge, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion throughout the country to the point where a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. “Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks,” the ruling said.

Both bills would have to be approved by full committees this week to survive a procedural deadline for policy bills.

Republicans have supported similar legislation in the past, but with the party now holding majorities in both legislative chambers and with a GOP governor, their chances for passage are stronger.

Opponents of the bills said they are unconstitutional and would pose a danger to women’s health.

Amanda Acton of Waukee told the subcommittee that she had an abortion at 21 weeks after learning the fetus had an unlivable genetic condition. She said doctors would not have been able to detect the disorder any earlier.

“You will not save lives with this legislation,” Acton said. “Only 1 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks, and most women who are deciding to have an abortion after 20 weeks are, like me, deciding to prevent the assured suffering of a much-wanted child out of compassion and love.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren, an Ottumwa Republican, said he plans to amend the 20-week ban, noting drafting errors and interest in considering exceptions for severe pregnancy complications. No exceptions are provided in the bill for rape or incest.

Chelgren said advancing multiple Senate bills provides greater flexibility in ensuring some form of abortion restriction survives expected legal challenges.

“When you deal with bills that may have court challenges or Supreme Court challenges, passing multiple layers of a bill makes sense,” he said. “Therefore if one bill is struck down, there are other options.”

Joan Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Catholic Conference, called the GOP majority a “rare opportunity” to change abortion laws in Iowa.

“After facing years of obstacles, especially the rejection of scientific and biological fact, we have a path to begin to end the assault on the lives and dignity of women and children and protect the fundamental right to life,” she said.

Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the religious conservative group the Family Leader, called the advancing legislation “a step in history,” while acknowledging the efforts will likely face legal challenges.

“We need Iowa to lead right now,” Vander Plaats said. “If not now, then when?”

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Follow Linley Sanders on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LinleyAnn

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