The Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would specifically keep a Nebraska doctor from opening a late-term abortion clinic in Council Bluffs.  

The Republican-led Iowa House passed a bill that mimics laws in states like Nebraska and Kansas. That bill would prohibit abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Nebraska’s law took effect October 15 and Dr. LeRoy Carhart announced he intended to open a late-term abortion clinic across the border in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Today the Democratically-led Iowa Senate passed a bill that would require Carhart and others to apply to the State of Iowa for a “certificate of need” or permit for a “free-standing” abortion clinic, and the clinic would have to be located near a hospital with a neonatal unit for premature babies. There is no such hospital in Council Bluffs.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, suggested the proposal keeps Carhart out of Council Bluffs while still allowing late-term abortions when necessary. 

“We need to be honest about the circumstances under which a woman pursues an abortion after 20 weeks,” Bolkcom said. “Not every pregnancy ends the way a family hopes it will. A woman with a wanted pregnancy that goes terribly wrong must face an awful decision that none of us ever want to face.”

Critics of the plan say Carhart would be able to open a clinic in four other Iowa cities which do have hospital units for premature babies. 

“I’m sick that this bill actually sets up a pathway for late-term abortionists to set up work here in Iowa,” said Senator Nancy Boettger, a Republican from Harlan. “…I call it the Late Term Abortionists Invitation Bill.”

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, suggested the bill’s merely cover for Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs where there’s been a public outcry about Carhart’s plans.

“We’re going to pass this bill just to save face, but not save a life,” Zaun said. “This bill is a sham. We should be ashamed of ourselves and it disgusts me.”

Gronstal spoke near the end of debate, saying he “generally” votes in favor of abortion rights. “But at times I, too, have reeled at the suggestion of something like late-term abortion,” Gronstal said.

Gronstal characterized the bill as a compromise that will answer the fears of his constituents in Council Bluffs without banning all late-term abortions.

“I reel at the thought of abortion, but I also reel at the thought of telling a woman she must take to term a baby that cannot survive,” Gronstal said. “That’s got to be the most gut-wrenching decision anybody has ever made.”

Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, said the Senate Democrats’ bill won’t see the light of day in the Republican-led House. 

“You know the challenge that we have in front of us right now is Senate File 534 might feel good, but it’s not going to do a darn thing,” Chelgren said.  “…Even if we passed it unanimously, it — like a ship in the night — would pass to the House and nothing would happen.”

Bolkcom argued the House-passed ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy would be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate, given our budget constraints, to pass things that are unconstitutional that will require the state to defend and spend money to try and address,” Bolkcom said.

Republicans tried several different tactics to try to sideline the Democratic proposal and substitute their own plan. With shouts of “point of order” ringing through the senate, Senate President Jack Kibbie asked for a bit of a time out.

“Would the senators have a little patience here and cool your heels here a little bit?” Kibbie asked. 

After two hours of debate, the bill passed on a 26 to 23 vote; with Democrats on the “yes” side and Republicans voting “no.”