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New GOP majority could bring abortion restrictions to Iowa



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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- For years, Iowa's divided Legislature shielded the state from a wave of Republican-backed laws that restricted abortion access around the country.

But a new GOP majority will take control in January, meaning nearly a dozen abortion-related bills could soon be on the table, and Democrats will be unable to block them by vote for the first time in a decade.

"With these changes in Iowa, this can be when we start to really see a lot of abortion restrictions fly through the Legislature," said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a national organization that supports reproductive health and rights.

It's been nearly 20 years since the GOP controlled both state chambers and the governor's office. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has said he opposes abortion in general.

After spending most of the last 26 years at the Capitol, former state lawmaker Chuck Hurley, a spokesman for an anti-abortion organization known as The Family Leader, said he sees this as the movement's "best opportunity ever to protect innocent human life."

Iowa was one of at least three states where voters turned the government completely Republican in the Nov. 8 election. The GOP widened its hold on governorships and maintained a majority in Congress, in addition to gaining the power of the presidency with Donald Trump.

Legislation in Iowa could reduce the window of time that a woman can seek an abortion and ban the use of fetal tissue donated to universities for research.

Other bills could force a woman to wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion or require counseling about the procedure's health effects, which critics say can sometimes be inaccurate. In some states, women must be told about pain a fetus might suffer, and teenagers must get consent from a parent.

Branstad signed a bill in the 1990s that required parental notification but not consent. He has been public about his effort to appoint abortion opponents to a state board that unsuccessfully tried to ban telemedicine abortion in the state. The practice allows women in rural areas to get abortion pills without the need for an in-office consultation in a city clinic.

Republicans have also repeatedly pushed to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood, despite the money not being used for abortions. The issue has delayed adjournment in previous legislative sessions.

Because of its divided Legislature, Iowa was mostly shielded from measures that emerged after Tea Party candidates won big in the 2010 midterm elections, including in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Between 2011 and 2016, more than 330 abortion restrictions were enacted around the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

GOP leaders in the Iowa House and Senate have been mum on what ideas they might support.

Republican state Rep. Greg Heartsill said he will try again to introduce legislation to ban abortion despite the legal challenges that would be sure to follow. His proposal includes a bill to change state law and an amendment to the state constitution. He said he's still working to secure enough votes within his party.

Jenifer Bowen of Iowa Right to Life said a new coalition of anti-abortion groups will announce their legislative priorities before lawmakers return to the Capitol on Jan. 9. She offered a practical assessment of a flat-out abortion ban, though she said that has always been the ultimate goal.

"We want to be successful with whatever it is that we decide to put forward because we know the momentum is with us. We know that the votes are with us," she said. "But I guess for a lack of a better way to say it, we don't want to overplay our hand."

Rachel Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Iowa affiliate of Planned Parenthood, said her office has noticed an uptick in calls from people concerned about their reproductive rights in the new year. She declined to give specifics on how the organization would respond to legislation but emphasized that nothing would change immediately.

"We've been fighting for these rights for 100 years," she said of the national organization. "The fight hasn't always been easy, but we are standing strong. We will not back down. Today is no different."

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