Five stories: How Iowa's new abortion law will torment and endanger women

Women in Iowa have almost no options for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks, under a law former Governor Terry Branstad signed a few weeks ago. Proponents have claimed the measure would “save lives immediately.”

In reality, the law will cause more pregnant women to have life-threatening health problems, and will add to the suffering of parents whose babies have no chance of survival.

A NEAR-TOTAL BAN

Iowa law has long banned third-trimester abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk. Republicans introduced many anti-abortion bills during this year’s legislative session, but the 20-week ban was the only new restriction on abortion to survive the “funnel” deadline. The original version of the Senate bill was similar to legislation Iowa House Republicans had approved in 2011, prohibiting abortions “twenty or more weeks postfertilization” except “in the case of a medical emergency.”

Before the full chamber voted on Senate File 471, Republicans amended the bill to allow abortions between 20 and 24 weeks in the case of “a fetal anomaly incompatible with life.” The change acknowledged a medical reality: severe fetal abnormalities often go undetected until an ultrasound that many OB/GYNs order around 20 weeks gestation. The bill banned all abortions after 24 weeks unless there was a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. The Senate approved that bill in March, with Democrats Tod Bowman and Kevin Kinney joining all 29 Republicans and independent David Johnson to support it.

House Republicans made the bill worse. GOP lawmakers quickly abandoned ill-considered and unconstitutional language that would have prohibited all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (which would be around the sixth week of pregnancy). But they amended Senate File 471 to ban almost all abortions beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, even when the fetus could never survive outside the womb. The only exception would be if “the pregnant woman has a condition which the physician deems a medical emergency,” or if “the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child” (presumably referring to certain complications in twin pregnancies).

Iowa’s new law is stricter than 20-week bans in more than a dozen other states, which have exceptions covering situations where the woman’s health is threatened, and/or cases of rape or incest. No Democrats supported the revised bill in the House or Senate. State Representative David Maxwell was the only Republican in either chamber to vote against it.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is suing to block portions of the new law, which Branstad signed on May 5. But that lawsuit does not address the section containing the 20-week ban. The temporary injunction issued by the Iowa Supreme Court only affects enforcement of other restrictions added by House Republicans: a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions at any stage of pregnancy, a requirement to give women the “opportunity” to view an ultrasound picture of the fetus or hear a description, and mandatory, biased counseling emphasizing risks associated with having an abortion–even though peer-reviewed research has shown “the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”

Five women gave me permission to share their experiences with the heartbreaking circumstances that often lead to abortions later in pregnancy.

“HAD I BEEN AT HOME, I ALMOST CERTAINLY WOULD HAVE DIED”

Annalee Hollingsworth of Waterloo had an uneventful pregnancy until her water broke at 18 weeks.

The tear in the sac was too large to contain any fluid. I did not go into labor naturally. Our son survived that and would have continued to survive until birth. However, without the amniotic fluid, his lungs would not develop (the fetus “breathes” the fluid and that’s how the lungs develop in size and strength). He would suffocate to death the moment the cord was cut–I would give birth just to watch him struggle and die before my eyes.

Rupture of the amniotic sac greatly increases the risk of infection for a pregnant woman, so doctors routinely recommend inducing labor quickly. Hollingsworth learned that in some cases, the mother and child had both survived, “but never with an amniotic fluid level as low as mine.”

So, we had to choose whether to induce labor, have a D&X [dilation and extraction] (which would have had to have been done in Iowa City, we live in Waterloo), or wait. Wait for me to get an infection, or wait until I went in to labor or had to be induced at full term. We have a daughter, and my husband looked at me, tears streaming down his face, and said, “We’ve already lost our son, I can’t risk losing you, too.”

We chose to induce labor because it was the only way we would get to see our son and hold him. We went in for the induction at 8 am, and Charles was still alive. By 1 pm, I had become septic–my fever spiked to 103 and my blood pressure dropped to the low 80’s. This was noticed when the nurse took my temp while I was sleeping. Had I been at home, I almost certainly would have died.

Under Iowa’s new law, a woman in this situation could terminate a pregnancy if her water broke early enough to have the abortion before 20 weeks, taking into account the 72-hour waiting period. If the same complication happened after 20 weeks, the doctor could not act until a life-threatening infection developed. Sepsis can move fast and cause permanent organ damage or fertility loss, if not death. The earliest point of viability for a developing fetus is around 24 weeks.

Nebraska’s law put Danielle Deaver through this ordeal after her water broke at 22 weeks. Deaver has since spoken out against similar laws in Iowa and elsewhere.

Hollingsworth told me, “It’s a cruel torture for the mother and family to make them wait, and that’s assuming it’s not an actual death penalty.”

“WE NEVER WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT WE WOULD HAVE NEEDED AN ABORTION”

Mindy Swank of the Quad Cities told her story in a guest column for the State Journal-Register and agreed to my publishing excerpts from her interview with Samantha Bee’s show “Full Frontal.”

Swank and her husband had always planned to have a big family. During her second pregnancy, a 16-week ultrasound at their local hospital indicated the baby’s head was unusually large. She was referred to a regional Catholic hospital for more diagnostics the following week.

When we got to the regional Catholic hospital, they confirmed that there was hydrocephalus [water on the brain], and they told us about his heart. His heart, they said, had multiple problems. It was twisted and malformed in his chest. They said that, like, veins and arteries were coming out of the wrong ventricles. So we were very concerned, and we, you know, we made appointments to talk to a pediatric neurosurgeon and a pediatric cardiologist, because the hydrocephalus was so bad that he–his brain was no longer growing normally. There was a lot of brain damage as well.

They said come back in three weeks, at 20 weeks, because there’s more things wrong with the heart, but we just can’t see them, the heart is too small, and we’ll tell you more about his problems when you come back.

When Swank went back to the regional hospital, staff realized her water had broken. She was told she could terminate right away or “hold on to the pregnancy,” but within a couple of weeks she was likely to get an infection, which would require termination to save her life.

[The doctor] said, if this baby doesn’t miscarry soon, and you do by some miracle make it and deliver him, he will die soon after birth. And if by some even bigger miracle he doesn’t die after birth, he’s going to live his life as a vegetable.

When we found out that he wasn’t going to live, it was just such an unreal experience. I mean, I never thought I would lose a baby. I was just so, so sad. It was just terrible. At that point, I said, if this baby’s going to die anyway, let’s end the pregnancy.

From Swank’s newspaper account:

But the hospital where I was being treated operated under restrictions imposed by the Catholic Church, and the doctors could not help me end my pregnancy, even though they wanted to. Adam drove me to another hospital hours away where we thought we could get care, but we ran into another problem. Because the religious hospital did not share my medical records, which would show that the procedure was medically necessary, we would have to pay for it ourselves — somewhere between $4,000 and $20,000. We simply did not have that kind of money.

Confused, scared and with no options open to us, Adam and I went home to wait for nature to take its course.

The stress of the next few weeks was nearly unbearable. I slept with a thermometer by my bed to check for a fever. I feared we might not be able to have any more children or that I might get sick and die — leaving behind a husband and a young son.

After a couple of weeks, I started to bleed heavily and went to our local hospital for care.

Picking up during Swank’s televised interview.

They did an exam and they said, “Yeah, we can see there’s blood, but you’re not bleeding enough, and you’re not running a fever.” So they sent me home. And this happened five times over the course of the next five weeks. I would go in bleeding and, you know, having some pain, and they would say, “You’re not bleeding enough. You’re not running a fever.” So they just kept sending me home, five times over five weeks, and they refused to treat me.

We had no idea this was a Catholic hospital, or a hospital that followed Catholic health care restrictions. It was just the hospital that’s been around in our area that we’ve gone to since we were kids. […]

Finally, at 27 weeks pregnant I woke up in the morning and I was just bleeding everywhere, and soaking pads. And so I said I’m going to bring all these pads into the hospital. I brought them in, I threw the pads in front of the nurse, and I said, “Is this enough blood for you?”

To justify terminating the pregnancy, the nurses weighed the soaked pads and compared the reading with dry pads in order to calculate how much blood Swank had lost.

I was terrified. I just–they told me that, you know, I could lose my life, I could lose my uterus. And then on top of that, I didn’t know how much my baby was suffering. I kept imagining that he was, you know, going to suffer a horrible death. […] I didn’t know what he was feeling. But then on top of that, you know, I kept thinking, “Am I going to die?”

When I was in the hospital hemorrhaging at 27 weeks, the doctor came in and he told me that I had two options. I could either have–take a drug that would cause contractions so hard the baby would come out of my uterus–not my cervix–in which case they would have to do a hysterectomy, because I would start to bleed to death. Or, I could choose to have a vertical c-section. So, when I heard these options, I just, I broke down and I cried. Because I–those were just terrible options. And I thought, this is something that–it didn’t have to come to this.

After the birth, Swank’s son tried to breathe, which she remembers as “a horrible sound.” She and her husband were able to hold their baby before his heart stopped three hours and eighteen minutes later. Those hours didn’t match the romanticized image some people have of such tragedies. Swank’s son wasn’t conscious. He was turning blue, unable to breathe.

It wasn’t a magical time like people think. It was awful, and I was watching the clock just waiting for it to be over. So, I didn’t know what he could feel and couldn’t feel. And I just–I didn’t want him to feel pain. I try to tell myself that he didn’t have a brain. Hopefully there were no neurons connecting pain sensors.

I really try a lot to console myself with that thought, because I just can’t stand the idea that, you know, all of this could have been avoided, and he wouldn’t have felt anything, if they would have just terminated the pregnancy when my water broke.

You know, we never would have thought that we would have needed an abortion. I would never have looked into whether or not a hospital offered abortions.

Before her second pregnancy, Swank considered herself “very pro-life.” Looking back, she feels angry medical personnel gave her little information or help, even though her son’s well-being was on the line, not to mention her own life and fertility. “I was the only person in the world who loved my baby. I knew my baby. I was the person, the only person in the world looking out for his best interest. But yet people who don’t know me and don’t care about us, who never have to live with the repercussions, were making decisions for my baby and for myself. That just feels very wrong.”

“OUR DECISION WAS NEVER, EVER, EVER ABOUT CONVENIENCE”

Amanda Acton of Waukee hoped her story would help Republican lawmakers comprehend, “You will not save lives with this legislation. Only one percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks and most women who are deciding to have abortion after 20 weeks are, like me, deciding to prevent the assured suffering of a much-wanted child out of compassion and love.”

She spoke at Human Resources subcommittee meetings in both the Iowa House and Senate. In fact, her testimony in February prompted Senate Republicans to include the amendment allowing abortions between 20 and 24 weeks “when a doctor determines the pregnancy has a fetal anomaly incompatible with life.” For whatever reason, House Republicans were not moved by her story.

Acton told me she wasn’t worried at all heading in for an anatomy scan around 21 weeks. “The enormity of what could happen in a pregnancy just doesn’t even cross your mind.” She thought the worst-case scenario was they might not be able to tell the baby’s gender from the ultrasound.

During the appointment, Acton and her husband learned they were going to have a girl. They were excited; they had been hoping for a girl. Then the ultrasound tech “got really, really quiet.” When Acton’s husband asked if everything was ok, the tech said, “That’s kind of a loaded question.” She showed them some issues that concerned her. She wanted the doctor to take a look.

I remember thinking, well, ok, you know, we’ll just have a baby who is going to have some surgeries at birth. Or maybe at worst, we’re going to have in utero surgery. We didn’t know exactly what was going on.

[The doctor] came in and explained that she had what is called a diaphragmatic hernia, where there is a hole in her diaphragm, and so, her intestines and stomach had migrated up into her chest cavity.

Her doctor transferred their care to a high-risk practice at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, warning them, “It was really not good.”

The next day a perinatal specialist confirmed the severity of the baby’s condition.

We did some research, and yeah, these things happen, and there are kids who survive this. But he explained, not in our case. She literally had no lungs. I mean, she had lungs but they were just tiny buds of lungs, and they would not develop. He also noticed that there was significant fluid on her brain, and there was too much amniotic fluid because she wasn’t taking her practice breaths as she should.

The specialist and another doctor they consulted both assured them, “There is no chance for her life.” If the pregnancy continued to term, the baby would suffocate immediately after birth.

Acton and her husband “knew right away. There was no question in our minds that the compassionate thing to do would be to prevent that from happening.”

Our decision was never, ever, ever about convenience. […] I think that it was [GOP State Representative] Shannon Lundgren [who] said, in the House, in the [Human Resources] committee–you know, she said something to the effect of […] that we wouldn’t be ending lives just because they weren’t perfect. And that was so insulting to me. […]

Nobody’s perfect, first of all. And it just, it kind of equated it with a situation that wasn’t our situation. That made it sound like I was–that we did this just because our baby has nine toes instead of ten, you know? I mean, we did this to prevent her suffering. She was not going to live. There was no question in our minds.

Mercy is a Catholic facility, so doctors don’t perform abortions there. A week later, Acton received “phenomenal” care during her termination and delivery at Methodist Hospital (now Unity Point). She still sends flowers every year to the nurses who were “so compassionate and so understanding.” The Actons were able to hold their daughter and named her Leslie Elizabeth, after the main characters of the shows “30 Rock” and “Parks and Rec,” “because they were the kind of women that we would have liked for her to be.”

Speaking to me soon after Senate File 471 passed, Acton was outraged “there would be no exceptions for Leslie’s situation.” If she had continued her high-risk pregnancy, she would have needed nearly “constant monitoring” and “invasive procedures.” An Iowa woman facing the same diagnosis today would have to continue the pregnancy, possibly developing a life-threatening infection, leading to fertility loss or a termination later that would be more painful for the baby.

To me, it’s the same as if my child had been in a horrible car accident, and I chose to end life support. This is how I view it. Because there was no chance for her to survive, and the only thing that we could give her was compassion. That is the only thing we could give her.

It breaks my heart, it hurts, it hurts my soul to know that if Governor Branstad signs this [bill], that women like me and families like mine will not have the option that I did. That they will not be able to hold their babies. They will not be able to say goodbye in as peaceful a way as they can. They may have to watch their babies die painfully in their arms.

If I could have done anything to save her, including risk my own life, I would have. But there was nothing we could do. So the only thing we could do was to give her mercy.

It feels invasive to ask women about the worst moments of their lives, so I apologized for bringing up these memories again. In truth, Acton said, “I am really tired of telling my story. I am really tired. I shouldn’t have to be telling this story over and over again. I feel like it’s the kind of thing, it’s not something that I should have to tell you twice.”

At the same time, she feels compelled to keep speaking out.

I recognize that I am not the person that they picture when they think about abortion. […] I live in Waukee, and I’ve got a husband and a kid and two cats, and we drive an SUV. You know? I’m not the person that they’re picturing. And I recognize that my voice is incredibly powerful because of that. Because I have the privilege that other people don’t, that maybe somebody who is poor or is a person of color or is gay or whatever, does not have, because they’ll listen to me. Theoretically. […]

The reason I’m sharing this story is that I am not alone. I am not alone in this. I am not the only person who has made this decision. But because of who I am […] I decided very early on that I couldn’t help being the poster child for this among my friends, and so I was going to make the best of it. And I was going to tell my story and raise my voice for people who couldn’t. For people who didn’t feel safe, for people who were still struggling with the decision, for people who were not supported in their life in this [decision]. Or for people who just–it was too painful to talk about.

That is why I’m sharing my story. Because I am not alone in this. I know I’m not alone. […] I am rare but I’m not alone.

Acton feels “incredibly lucky” compassionate medical care was available to her. Since Iowa didn’t have a “regressive policy” in place, she and her husband were able “to make the decision that was right for us.”

“THIS WOULD BE TORTURING MY CHILD”

The next woman I spoke with knows firsthand what it’s like when “politicians in Iowa decided they knew better than my doctors.” Her son’s condition was not diagnosed until the third trimester. She asked me not to publish her name or other identifying details. Many of her friends and relatives think she had a stillbirth.

She was receiving good medical care from a popular OB/GYN practice in her area. She did the Iowa maternal prenatal screening, which indicated a low risk of genetic defects. A 12-week ultrasound and a 20-week anatomy scan showed everything was normal. Her baby was in the third or fourth percentile for growth, though. “I’ve since learned that’s a red flag that should have gotten me sent to a specialist sooner, but it didn’t.”

She was told to come back for further testing in a month. Around 25 weeks, a follow-up ultrasound revealed a cleft lip. “OK, that’s not that big of a deal. […] If you’re going to have a birth defect, that’s the one to have.”

At 26 weeks, she went to a high-risk practice for another ultrasound, which revealed “a complete laundry list of problems: major organ damage in almost every organ system, major facial deformities that were indicative of a chromosomal problem.” They offered her an amniocentesis, but the doctor told her they were past the point when it would be legal to terminate a pregnancy in Iowa.

Her options were to go to a clinic in New Mexico or Colorado, or wait for the results of more genetic testing. An amniocentesis at 27 weeks found “a massive chromosomal deletion” that was both rare and “very severe.” Doctors concluded her baby would likely not survive labor, and if he did, he would not live long afterwards.

She faced a gut-wrenching decision.

You kind of have this image of, you know, like, “OK, I’ll carry to term and give my child the best chance,” or you know he deserves–by this time, I had carried him for 27 weeks and, you know, sang to him and read to him, and just kept thinking, like, “OK, we’ll just let him live in the womb, and that will be his life, and then he’ll pass away.” And you have this image of your sweet, sleeping baby drifting off to heaven or whatever.

Instead, I learned that his most likely cause of death was going to be be aspirating on spit because he couldn’t swallow. Or getting an infection in the hospital and having to be drugged until he finally passed away. The hospital told me that unfortunately, with babies they can’t do a DNR [do not resuscitate order]. They have to do everything they can to save them. […]

It kind of became clear to me that not terminating the pregnancy–if he survived labor, which would have been rare, but if he did, would have amounted to torturing my child until he finally passed away.

More conversations with specialists in cardiology, urology, and nephrology deepened her conviction: “this would be torturing my child. […] I looked at my uterus as life support, and it wasn’t fair to not say ok, I have to pull that.”

She made an appointment with Dr. Warren Hern’s clinic in Boulder, one of the few facilities in the U.S. where a woman can get a third-trimester abortion. Terminating a pregnancy so late is a complicated, weeklong procedure. On a Monday she received medication to stop her baby’s heart. She delivered on the Thursday. She was able to hold her baby.

It’s just extraordinarily difficult, because you know, it’s my son. It was not an unwanted pregnancy. […]

I found out much later, so my situation, I guess, is a little bit different. But now, when I think of this 20-week ban, I just think of how many more people are going to be put in the place I was in, where you go to bed every night praying that your baby will die naturally. It was seriously my prayer every night, while we were getting ready to go to Boulder, I was just like, maybe we’ll get there and find out his heart has already stopped. […] Maybe his heart will be stopped and they’ll be like, “You don’t need this.”

She feels “extraordinarily fortunate” that specialists she saw in Iowa informed her of options elsewhere. The nurses and social worker at the Boulder clinic were “fabulous” and caring.

She also recognizes that she is lucky care out of state was an option. The procedure alone cost $12,500–similar to the cost of a childbirth. Although her health insurance covered termination, she only got $2,000 reimbursed because the Boulder clinic was out of network. (If she had been able to have the abortion at an Iowa hospital in network, she would have paid nothing beyond the deductible.) Taking into account plane tickets on a day’s notice and a hotel booked at the last minute, she and her husband spent nearly $15,000 out of pocket. Many families would never be able to manage those expenses.

It was scary to be in an unfamiliar place at such an emotional time, knowing Dr. Hern’s clinic has been targeted by extremists. (The doctor told one journalist last year “he wakes up every day expecting to be shot.”) Her husband wasn’t even able to bring his Kindle inside, because for security reasons they don’t allow any electronics at the facility.

Reflecting on that awful week now, she feels, “I should have never been in the situation I was in, where I had to go to another state, where I had to go through three levels of bullet-proof glass […]. I shouldn’t have been put in that situation by politicians.” Under Iowa’s new law, anyone desperate to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks for similar reasons will have to travel long distances. “So you’re taking women away from providers they trust and making them go to places that are basically unknown to them and are known to crazy people.” And because she was far from home, her parents were unable to be with her and hold their grandson for a little while.

It’s just so personally devastating to think about how many women are going to be put in the situation I was in. Because even if you can get your 20-week ultrasound scheduled early, now you have a 72-hour waiting period. You’re going to have to do the scan at 18, 19 weeks. And then you’re going to be put in the position of making a life-altering decision with, like, a day’s notice.

The one thing that was nice, because I was so late already, I had time to think about it. I had a week of going back and forth, back and forth, I’m not going to get on a plane, I’m not going to do it. OK, we’re going to to it.

Now with all these waiting periods and such an early deadline, women are going to find out something is wrong, and then have, like, ten hours to decide what to do. And that’s just so unfair.

Since she was obviously reluctant to terminate the pregnancy, what tipped the scales? “It’s a choice. I’ve met many women who have chosen to carry to term and then hold their baby and wait for them to pass away. And like I said, if there could have been some sort of guarantee, like he would only have a minute or two, I probably would have done that.” But when she found out he might suffer for days or a week if he survived labor, she decided, “I can’t do it.”

Even as a “very pro-choice” woman, she always felt she would keep the baby if she had an unplanned pregnancy. “Because I’m in a situation where I have support, my family would help, you know, I’m an upper middle-class white woman, these things would work out for me.” She never anticipated anything like what unfolded with her son.

She agreed to be interviewed to help clear up misconceptions. “I feel like there’s a lot of pro-choice people out there, and possibly even my husband was at one point,” who take the position that “by 20 weeks, you should have made up your mind.”

I’ve actually heard some people say, “Well, you know, it’s rare for that to happen.” I’m just like, “Well, just because it’s rare doesn’t mean we don’t matter.” Because, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with the fact that you’ve made the decision that what you think is best for your child is not to give them life.

I think the thing that someone said to me that resonates is, “I couldn’t give my child life, so I gave them peace.” And I really, really believe that. […]

I absolutely do not regret terminating my pregnancy, but moving on is not something I think will ever happen in my life.

She saved her son’s hand prints and footprints, which are framed. She can’t sing her new baby the same lullabies she sang to her son. She worries about getting pregnant again someday, “because I can’t do this again. And then I think of how many more women are going to have to deal with what I had to deal with, because it’s so much more restrictive now. […] It just breaks my heart.”

“THEY CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE AGONY OF MAKING SUCH DECISIONS”

In her last guest commentary for Bleeding Heartland, Maridith Morris noted that when a fetus has severe medical problems, continuing the pregnancy carries higher risks of life-threatening complications such as polyhydramnios (having too much amniotic fluid), hemorrhage, placental abruption, or pulmonary fluid embolism.

A personal friend had a close call after she made the choice that will now be forced on Iowa women.

My friend doesn’t live in Iowa and preferred not to have her name published. She and her husband were thrilled to be expecting their first child. When an ultrasound at 19 weeks revealed he had Down syndrome, they weren’t put off by the thought of raising him. “With Nathaniel we heard, Down syndrome, and thought, well, Special Olympics.”

The doctors explained that “those are the miracle babies.” The trisomy disorder is almost always incompatible with life. My friend’s son had huge problems with vital organs and could never survive.

Although she is pro-choice, she decided not to terminate the pregnancy “after a lot of soul searching.” In addition to religious considerations, “I hoped he would die in utero and then be stillborn without the need for excessive medical intervention.”

As Nathaniel’s circulatory syndrome weakened and failed, she began to have excessive amniotic fluid, and her blood pressure skyrocketed. The condition is called mirroring syndrome or Ballantyne syndrome, and it causes “a substantial increase” in maternal morbidity. She could have had a stroke.

We managed ok for about a month although I felt pretty awful by the end. At almost 24 weeks I was quite poorly and my doctors were gently suggesting that it was time. But then it turned out that he had died in utero, likely the same day we had made the decision to interrupt the pregnancy. So although we had made the decision we didn’t have to act on it, if that makes any sense. […]

What I found comforting was the CHOICE. No one told me what we could or could not do. Zero pressure. The docs were so careful not to influence us at all. Said they were behind us no matter what. That was incredibly helpful.

It enrages me when people with no personal experience of perinatal loss (eg middle aged men) weigh in on these debates. They do not understand what we endured. They cannot understand the agony of making such decisions.

When I told my friend Iowa now has a 72-hour waiting period as well as almost no exceptions after 20 weeks, she was horrified. “So often things get missed until the 19-week scan. And then to have a few days at most to make such a decision? It took us days and days to even wrap our heads around what was happening.”

She anticipates the law will be “traumatic” for people who work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) as well as for parents, and wonders how many clinicians will look for work in other states.

Because babies will be born alive with severe conditions that preclude any chance of a long and healthy life. And NICUs will be left picking up the pieces and dealing with families who are incredibly traumatized.

The horror of being forced to carry a baby to term, then to see that infant die by degrees in an NICU from a terminal condition, is so appalling I feel ill just contemplating it.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY”

Acton commented during our interview,

I don’t understand why, when they have been told by so many people, and they’ve–I mean, I understand logically, but in my heart, it’s just hard to get my head around, when I say to them, this legislation that you’re presenting to me right here would have directly harmed me. I’m not sure if I would be able to have the family I have today, physically or emotionally. I mean, this is all about the sanctity of life–well, these babies are not going to live anyway. People don’t have abortions after 20 weeks just because.

Not being a mind-reader, I can’t explain why former Governor Branstad, Governor Kim Reynolds, and almost every Iowa Republican legislator enthusiastically supported a law that will put women through emotional hell and in some cases could cause premature deaths or fertility loss.

Some may be zealots. Others may have made a political calculation: with total control of state government at last, they needed to deliver on some of the promises they’ve made to anti-abortion activists over many years. Now they can say, “We saved babies,” even though the law would do nothing to help the five much-wanted and still-grieved babies of the women who spoke to me.

Senate File 471’s floor manager Lundgren told her colleagues during the House debate,

“We treat born human beings for illnesses,” she said. “We don’t kill them because it’s inconvenient or they’re sick or unlikely to live long. We do all that we can to heal them, love them and make their lives comfortable for as long as possible.”

Even after hearing Acton’s story in person, Lundgren had the nerve to suggest women who seek abortions after 20 weeks don’t love their babies enough. In effect, she accused them of not doing what they could to heal their babies. She implied they chose to kill their children “because it’s inconvenient or they’re sick.” Contrary to the direct, lived experience of Acton and Hollingsworth and Swank and the others, Lundgren claimed Iowa’s law would make babies with unsurvivable conditions “comfortable for as long as possible.”

I don’t understand why.

Top image: Screen shot from Mindy Swank’s October 2016 interview with Samantha Bee.

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