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Abortion proposal could keep clinic out of Council Bluffs, but not elsewhere in Iowa

A new abortion bill in the Iowa Senate could give a Nebraska abortion doctor a loophole to open a freestanding clinic in Iowa, in spite of Republican efforts to stop him.

Senate Study Bill 1212, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, would allow abortion doctors who want to practice late term procedures in Iowa to apply for a certificate of need before being allowed to open a clinic. Approved clinics would have to be in close proximity to hospitals that have appropriate specialists and technology to protect the lives of both the woman and fetus; such hospitals are located in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.

Previous abortion bills have been introduced during this session as an attempt to keep Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a late-term abortion clinic in Council Bluffs.

“Make no mistake, the bill by Joe Bolkcom does absolutely nothing to ban late term abortions in Iowa,” Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, said Thursday morning, adding if Senate Study Bill 1212 becomes law, it will turn Iowa into “the late-term abortion Mecca of the Midwest.”

Certificate of need approval is granted by a five-person board — two of whom were appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad, and three by former Gov. Chet Culver, McKinley said. The certification of need could potentially give Carhart the loophole he needs to still open a clinic in Iowa, just not in Council Bluffs, if that board would grant approval.

“The goal of Senate Democrats, however, is specifically to prevent the abortionist Dr. Carhart from opening shop in Council Bluffs,” McKinley said.

The bill was introduced in a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting Thursday afternoon. Though the atmosphere was cordial, questions from Sen. Roby Smith (R-Davenport) about the rules that would govern where such abortions could happen and who drafts those rules were repeatedly deflected by Bolkcom, who wanted to keep conversation on the substance of the bill.

Smith wanted to know specifically who would draft rules about what would define “close proximity” and demanded to know how Bolkcom could state there were six late-term abortions in Iowa in 2009 if he could provide no report on it. The figure is based on information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“I represent 60,000 people,” Smith said. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t rush my questions. I want to represent my 60,000 people. I work for them, I don’t work for a clock.”

“These aren’t abortions that happen because there isn’t something serious that happened during the pregnancy,” Bolkcom told him, adding the bill would allow for late-term abortions for women who “were planning on a successful birth and pregnancy” but encountered medical complications.

Senate Study Bill 1212 was drafted in response to a House Republicans proposal, House File 657, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation, except in certain cases of medical emergency. In abortion procedures involving multiple fetuses, doctors would have to perform the procedure in such a way that would protect the other fetuses.

However, abortion rights advocates denounced House File 657 because the legislation stipulates that life would be recognized as starting at fertilization. That single line would actually make all abortions in Iowa illegal, Ben Stone, executive director of ACLU of Iowa, said. The organization also took the stance that the bill gave no consideration to the life or health of the women seeking late-term abortions.

House File 657 was discharged out of committee last week to the Senate floor to await debate. The discharge petition was filed by Smith, according to a Senate Republican spokesman. Two Democrats, Sen. Tom Hancock, of Epworth, and Sen. Joe Seng, of Davenport, voted with Republicans to see the House File 657 discharged. Hancock told The Iowa Independent following the bill discharge that as a “pro-life Catholic,” he does not support abortion, nor does he want Carhart’s clinic in Iowa.

Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) said Bolkcom’s bill implements a screening process for late-term abortion clinics by mandating the doctor go through the certification of need process before being allowed to open.

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