- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Legislature moved a step closer Wednesday to approving a stringent abortion bill that would outlaw the practice in most cases after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest or fatal fetal anomalies.

The Republican-majority House voted on party lines to approve the bill, which also includes a required 72-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion. The legislation now returns to the Senate, which has already approved the bill but must vote again because it was amended in the House.

“Today we make a stand for our unborn girls and boys who will become men and women,” said Rep. Shannon Lundgren, a Peosta Republican and the bill’s floor manager. “This is the first of many bills that I hope we pass as a legislators to defend our unborn children.”

By a 55-41 vote, with one Republican and all Democrats opposing the bill, lawmakers moved to make Iowa the twentieth state to enact a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill also would require doctors to offer a woman more details about an ultrasound, including an option to hear the heartbeat of the fetus. House Republicans said the ultrasound viewing and waiting period may persuade women to reconsider an abortion.

Republican lawmakers in Iowa have long pushed for more restrictions on abortion, but this year they finally were able to move ahead thanks to the GOP taking control of both legislative chambers for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive health rights, said states like Iowa that saw Republicans take control of legislatures in last year’s election have gravitated toward bans that have been upheld in other states.

“Iowa’s in the position where abortion restrictions haven’t been on the front-burner for a very long time,” she said. “I think of this bill as almost pent-up energy on the conservative side.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states have passed similar 20-week bans, which are based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage.

Gov. Terry Branstad, a long-time abortion opponent, is expected to sign the bill. He expressed support for the restrictions at a recent anti-abortion rally.

“We have move work to do, and you have my word, that so long as I have the honor of serving you, I will continue to be a strong advocate for the unborn,” he said at the rally.

When asked about the measure this week, a Branstad spokesman said the governor reserves judgment on the legislation

Democrats attempted to stall the bill during floor debate, which began Tuesday and concluded Wednesday evening, but they lacked the votes to change the legislation. Rep. Mary Mascher, an Iowa City Democrat, questioned the need for such restrictions, noting that abortion rates in Iowa have dropped with increased birth control and sexual education.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there was a 23 percent decline in the state abortion rate between 2011 and 2014.

After Lundgren acknowledged not speaking with a physician about the bill, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, an Ames Democrat, questioned why lawmakers were making decisions that should be left to women and doctors.

“I am concerned about the lack of input from the medical community on this bill,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “These are complicated decisions.”

A coalition of anti-abortion lawmakers sought to add further restrictions by filing an amendment to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or about six weeks. That GOP-led effort was withdrawn, as members did not have the votes to pass what would have been the strictest abortion ban in the country.

The Republican-majority chamber approved a more symbolic amendment, which notes the Iowa Legislature’s interest in protecting all unborn life. The statement has no legal impact, but creates a statement of intent from lawmakers.

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