A bill to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy,  except in cases of medical emergency,  got its first airing at the statehouse Tuesday. Backers hope to quickly advance the bill to ensure a Nebraska doctor who performs late-term abortions does not open a clinic in Council Bluffs.

Representative Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, says the bill is fashioned after Nebraska’s new law on so-called “late term” abortions.

“Those children can feel pain and it is (inhumane) for us to allow for them to feel pain in such a gruesome fashion as a late term abortion,” Windschitl says. The bill states that human life begins at conception and requires doctors to estimate the age of the fetus. Windschitl cited research which concludes the fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks in the womb.

Critics of the bill argue it’s contrary to the landmark Roe v Wade decision which legalized abortion and discussed the “viability” of the fetus. Kyle Carlson is legal director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “It’s slightly different for each pregnancy, but I think it’s generally around 24 weeks, based on the way they currently calculate,” Carlson says. Windschitl responded.

“Roe v Wade has a lot of chinks in its armor right now,” Windschitl says. “And I think that we need to move beyond the viability argument.” According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, in 2009 there were six abortions performed in Iowa in which the pregnancy was past the 20th week. The bill was discussed Tuesday in a House subcommittee.