Iowa Board of Medicine proposes abortion rules for physicians

The law bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.
Iowa Board of Medicine proposes abortion rules for physicians
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:18 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (Gray Iowa Capitol Bureau) - Critics say Iowa’s Board of Medicine is not providing clarity for doctors on how to follow the state’s new abortion ban. House File 732 bans any abortion once cardiac activity is detected - typically around six weeks. That law is on hold right now as it is on appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The main questions around Iowa’s new abortion ban is the exceptions. Those are for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities that would be incompatible with life. The Board of Medicine’s rules are meant to help doctors navigate that but critics who spoke at a hearing today say they don’t do that.

Deborah Turner, a former gynecologist said “First and foremost, you are physicians and your duty is to do no harm. That means no harm to those who you are serving which is in reality your patients. That duty does not fall away because you are sitting on a rule making board.”

Turner told the board the rules do little to support doctors mission. She pointed to some of the language used in the rules mirroring that of anti-abortion groups and lawmakers. “Terminology such as Heartbeat Law as opposed to six week ban, and unborn child as opposed to fetus or embryo instead of words like pregnancy are words used to evoke emotion, not to describe medical situations,” Turner said.

Ultimately, the rules put the judgment on the doctor on whether an abortion qualifies for an exemption. For rape and incest, for example, the proposed rules ask the doctor to gather details about when sex happened and whether it was consensual, then make a judgement call on if the woman is being truthful.

Francesca Turner, an OB/GYN in Des Moines finds that disturbing. “Physicians in Iowa seek to care for their patients, not document minutiae of assault or jeopardize physician-patient relationships by demanding horrifying details,” Turner said.

Ultimately critics worry the law and vague rules for following it could scare doctors out of Iowa. “Physicians in Iowa seek to promote magnificence and justice, not to withhold care while waiting for our patients to fully miscarry or their health to decline enough to qualify for treatment,” Turner said.

The rules also don’t offer specific punishments if a doctor violates the law - just saying it could result in discipline. A representative from the Attorney General’s office says that would follow usual protocol for doctors violating the law - which can range from a fine to losing their licenses.

Due to an injunction, the abortion law isn’t in effect currently. Regardless, the Board of Medicine has to come up with these rules anyways.