A dispute about abortion policy is a major stumbling block to the effort to close down the 2011 legislative session this week. 

Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, doesn’t mince words. “If both sides would remain very stubborn on this issue, whether or not we would go home could revolve around this,” Heaton says.

Senator Jack Hatch, a Democrat from Des Moines, uses the phrase “cruel and usual” to describe the GOP proposal to end the 33-year-old state policy which has allowed state tax dollars to be used to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal deformity.

“It’s legal under the law to have an abortion, but because poor women can’t afford it, that’s setting up a separate class,” Hatch says.

Legislators face a July 1 deadline to pass a new state budget for the new state fiscal year that begins Friday. But Heaton and the 59 other House Republicans have voted on three different occasions to forbid the use of state tax dollars, in the Medicaid program, to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal deformity.

“A month and a half ago, we knew that this day would come,” Heaton says. 

Hatch and the other Democrats in the Senate are digging in.

“It is a change in policy that we can’t accept either,” Hatch says.

Hatch says many Republican legislators, including Heaton, have voted for the existing abortion policy in past years. 

“I’m a little surprised that they’re drawing this very harsh requirement against women that’s preventing us from coming to a conclusion,” Hatch says.

However, Heaton says he’s hopeful this “impasse” over abortion policy can be resolved.

“Each side recognizes that in order to get a bill and send it to the governor, we will have to find some area of agreement,” Heaton says. 

The abortion-related issue is included in a budget bill that outlines state spending for the Departments of Public Health and Human Services.  

Legislators have yet to hammer out an agreement on the level of general state funding for K-12 public schools.  And the two political parties cannot agree on a property tax reform plan. 

Neither the House nor Senate have spent much time today voting on legislation.  Most of the activity has been in committee rooms, or in private statehouse offices, as groups of lawmakers discuss the details in various bills that must pass the House and the Senate before the 2011 legislative session can conclude.