Iowa passes 6-week abortion ban during late night vote; Idaho disbands maternal death review committee

Iowa abortion ban

Iowa Republicans passed a ban on abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy in the middle of the night Tuesday during a one day special session.

The bill, House File 732, claims to ban abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. However, there is no actual heartbeat at 6 weeks of gestation because the heart of the embryo has not yet fully developed:

“At six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist,” she explains. “The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”

That’s why “the term ‘fetal heartbeat’ is pretty misleading,” says Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

“What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity,” she explains. “In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.”

After a marathon session marked by passionate protests, nearly all Republicans in the state House and Senate voted to pass the bill. House Reps. Mark Cisneros (R-Muscatine) and Zach Dieken (R-Granville) joined all Democrats in opposition; Sen. Mike Klimesh (R-Spillville) was the lone Senate Republican to join Democrats in opposition in the final 11 p.m. vote.

The entire process lasted 15 hours, from introduction to final passage. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has promised to sign the bill into law on Friday.

“Today, the Iowa legislature once again voted to protect life and end abortion at a heartbeat, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.”

“The Iowa Supreme Court questioned whether this legislature would pass the same law they did in 2018, and today they have a clear answer. The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed.”

“As a pro-life Governor, I am also committed to continuing policies to support women in planning for motherhood, promote the importance of fatherhood, and encourage strong families. Our state and country will be stronger because of it.”

Absent from the governor’s statement is the fact that over 60% of Iowans “believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.”

A coalition of abortion providers and the ACLU sued to block the law on Wednesday.

Nebraska illegal abortion charges

A Nebraskan mother and daughter pleaded guilty last week to facilitating an illegal abortion after Facebook turned over their chat messages to law enforcement.

Police first launched an investigation into Jessica Burgess, 42, and Celeste Burgess, then 17 years old, last year when they received a tip that Celeste had miscarried and her mom helped bury the body. A Norfolk police detective obtained Celeste’s medical records, determined that she was approximately 23 weeks pregnant, and then confronted the pair.

When he interviewed them a few days later, they told him Celeste Burgess had unexpectedly given birth to her stillborn baby in the shower, in the early morning hours after midnight, court records say.

She woke her mother, and they put the baby’s body in a bag and stowed it in the back of their van, he wrote.

Later — the records don’t say when — they drove a few miles north of town and buried the body, with help from a 22-year-old man.

After confirming the location of the body, the investigating officer, Ben McBride, served Meta with a warrant seeking their Facebook messages. The evidence he found suggested that Jessica Burgess had obtained abortion pills for her daughter and gave her instructions on how to take them.

The Facebook messages appear to show Celeste and Jessica talking about taking abortion medication:

Celeste: “Are we starting it today?”

Jessica: “We can if u want the one will stop the hormones”

Celeste: “Ok”

Jessica: “Ya the 1 pill stops the hormones an rehn [sic] u gotta wait 24 HR 2 take the other”

Celeste: “Ok”

Celeste: “Remember we burn the evidence”

Facebook DMs obtained by law enforcement were then used as the main basis for a second search warrant, in which 13 laptops and smartphones were seized from the Burgesses; 24 gigabytes of data including images, messages, and web histories from their phones was extracted for the case.

“Celeste Burgess talks about how she can’t wait to get this ‘thing’ out of her body and reaffirms it with Jessica Burgess that they will burn the evidence afterwards,” McBride wrote in an affidavit requesting permission to seize the Burgess’ electronics. “I know from prior training and experience, and conversations with other seasoned criminal investigators, people involved in criminal activity frequently have conversations regarding their criminal activities through various social networking sites … computer hardware, software, and data are instrumentalities and evidence in the commission of this crime.”

Jessica pleaded guilty to providing an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, false reporting, and tampering with human skeletal remains. She faces up to two years in prison. Celeste was charged as an adult and pleaded guilty to removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead body, which also carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

At the time of Celeste’s abortion, the procedure was banned after 20 weeks gestation. Gov. Jim Pillen (R) signed a bill into law in May 2023 that bans abortion at 12 weeks.

Idaho dissolves maternal death committee

Idaho is now the only state without a committee to examine maternal deaths related to pregnancy and make policy recommendations to improve outcomes.

The committee, called a Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC), was made up of a family medicine physician, an OB-GYN, a midwife, a coroner, and a social worker. It lost its legal status when the Republican-controlled state legislature declined to advance legislation extending its mandate.

The legislation that established the MMRC gave members legal protection to review specific case information for maternal deaths and the authority to request records from health and law enforcement agencies.

A bill to extend the MMRC beyond its June sunset date was tabled in the state House Health and Welfare Committee this past legislative session.

“Absent the statute, or the enabling legislation, the committee can’t function in the same way,” Elke Shaw-Tulloch, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told Boise State Public Radio in May.

The MMRC’s latest recommendations give a hint as to why Idaho Republicans were against the project: expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage, giving pregnant women priority for subsidized housing, increasing social services funding and support, and expanding access to the opioid overdose treatment naloxone—all traditionally associated with Democratic policies.

Furthermore, Idaho has one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, outlawing the procedure at all stages of pregnancy. A new report from the MMRC would potentially reveal how many more people died from pregnancy-related conditions since the ban took effect.

Don’t miss these articles

“Indiana Supreme Court upholds abortion ban, says state constitution gives only limited protections,” Associated Press

“Wisconsin judge: Lawsuit to repeal abortion ban can continue,” Associated Press

“Abortion providers in North Carolina file federal lawsuit challenging restrictions,” PBS

“Ohio Moves Closer to Ballot Issue That Would Protect Abortion Rights,” New York Times

“How many miles do you have to travel to get abortion care? One professor maps it,” NPR

“Sacramento Sheriff is sharing license plate reader data with anti-abortion states, records show,” Sacramento Bee

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