Iowa legislators considered two bills of special interest to social conservatives this year: a religious freedom restoration act and a bill that would place new limits on abortion. Lawmakers split on what to do with the bills, with the abortion bill advancing and the religious freedom bill dying.
In the 2018 legislative session, Iowa became the latest state to debate how much protection the state should give to religious expression or activities based on religious views. Bills introduced in both houses of the legislature, entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” would have set a higher standard for the state to meet in court if challenged on regulations or laws that infringed upon religious expression or actions motivated by religious beliefs.
Supporters of the bill contended it was necessary to protect individuals who have sincere religious beliefs from government rules that infringe upon their freedom. Opponents, including many in the business community, said that the legislation could protect discrimination, especially discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Versions of this legislation have been enacted nationally and in other states. However, there was significant controversy in recent years when North Carolina and Indiana lawmakers considered these proposals. North Carolina enacted a law and faced a national backlash and economic boycott.
The Senate version of the proposal, SF 2338, passed a Senate committee and was scheduled for floor action until the majority leader sent it back to committee. This effectively killed the bill for the year. The House version of the measure did not make it out of committee.
Legislation to restrict abortion fared more favorably in Des Moines, however. In late February, the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw abortion if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat, which generally occurs around 6 weeks after gestation. No doctor could perform an abortion until he or she attempted to detect a heartbeat. The bill contained an exception that would allow abortions for medical emergencies. Doctors who violated the law could be charged with a felony and punished with up to five years in jail.
The hearings on this bill drew numerous speakers, both from Iowa and nationally. Those in favor of it said that a heartbeat proves that a fetus is a baby, so the state should not allow it to be killed. Those in opposition said the state should not infringe upon a woman’s right to access safe access to family planning procedures.
After is passage by the Senate, the fetal heartbeat bill is being considered by the House of Representatives, where it has already been approved by a key committee.
Do you support legislation that would give greater protection to religious liberty? Or do you think that “religious liberty” bills serve as cover to discriminate against gays and lesbians? Do you think that abortion should be outlawed once doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat?