A bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Iowa after the 20th week of pregnancy has cleared an initial hurdle at the statehouse.

Norm Pawlewski, a lobbyist for both the Iowa Right-to-Life Committee and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, says there’s an urgency to the issue since a Nebraska doctor has announced plans to open a clinic in Council Bluffs to perform late-term abortions.

 “We’re talking not about six, or seven, or 10, or 20, we’re talking about hundreds (of late-term abortions) and that’s what we have a concern for,” Pawlewski told legislators this afternoon. “We need to relieve the people of Council Bluffs from having this blemish on their community.”

A subcommittee approved the bill after a nearly hour-long meeting late this afternoon. Representative Mark Brandenberg, a Republican from Council Bluffs, was one of the legislators who spoke out on the issue during today’s meeting. “I believe that there’s overwhelming support in Council Bluffs for this bill…because of Dr. Carhart,” Brandenberg says, “and so I support the bill.”

Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference called it a “real ban” on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. “In our law today, you know, if you kill a bald eagle, you’re going to jail for a year,” Chapman said. “…But there is no comparable protection for the human unborn.”

The legislation would allow doctors to perform an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy to save the life or health of the mother.  Critics say that means the bill would deny abortions to women who have been told by their doctor that the fetus is deformed or will not survive outside the womb. 

“I think the biggest concern with this piece of legislation is a woman who is in a very tough situation of having a condition with her pregnancy where the fetus is incompatible with life and doesn’t discover it until 21 weeks is then is in a position where she is, under state law, forced to carry a pregnancy to term for another 19 or 20 weeks when it’s not going to result in a life at all,” said Kyle Carlson, legal director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican from Alden, said doctors aren’t always right. “There’s a young gentleman, his mother was told 22 years ago that he was going to be physically impaired,” Sweeney told the subcommittee, pausing as her voice choked with emotion. “This young man I’m talking about is my son. He is a senior at Iowa State in ag engineering and just returned from New Zealand studying thermal dynamics and structure systems.”

It’s not clear the bill can pass the full House committee where key abortion opponents have vowed to oppose it.  Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines, videotaped today’s proceedings. “I’m used to being with people who understand that abortion is a crime,” Leach told legislators at the end of the meeting. “…There’s a few of us out here for whom the issue is not negotiable.” 

The bill must clear the full House and the Senate before it would get to the governor’s desk for his signature.  Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has said he would bring the bill up for debate in the senate if the bill clears committee.