After long and often emotional debate, the Iowa House approved a bill to ban abortions in Iowa after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Representative  Mary Ann Hanusa, a Republican from Council Bluffs, said the bill’s a priority, as a Nebraska doctor has said he plans to open a clinic in Council Bluffs where he would perform so-called “late term” abortions.

“There is a substantial and growing body of medical and scientific evidence that unborn babies at 20 weeks can feel intense pain when they are aborted,” Hanusa said during debate. “At 20 weeks, unborn children have pain receptors throughout their body and nerves link these to the brain.”

Representative Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines who is the mother of three children, choked back tears as she talked about having a stillborn child in 2003.

“Supporting this bill adds another cruel punishment to what is already an overwhelming and ongoing experience of heartache,” Petersen said. “The fact that there were only six cases last year proves that Iowa families rarely use this option.” 

Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said if the bill becomes law, women may be denied abortions even if their babies have no chance to survive outside the womb.

“If keeping this doctor out of Iowa is necessary, there are ways to do that without risking the lives of our daughters,” she said. “Using this bill for that means is equivalent to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.”

Representative Hanusa disagreed.

“This bill protects the life of unborn children at 20 weeks and it protects the life of the mother,” Hanusa says. “Iowa’s sense of decency and compassion and our common humanity dictate that we as a state protect these vulnerable individuals.”

The bill passed on a 60 to 39 vote, with four Democrats joining all but three Republicans in the House in support of the legislation.  Three Republicans — Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill, Glen Massie of Des Moines and Tom Shaw of Laurens — voted against the proposal, as they favor a ban on all abortions instead.  Democrats Dan Muhlbauer of Manilla, Brian Quirk of New Hampton, Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield and Roger Thomas of Elkader were the only Democrats to vote for the bill. 

The proposal now goes to the Senate for consideration.