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Ernst Amendment Would Have Limited New Abortion Clinics In Iowa To 4 Cities

"Joni is proudly pro-life, so this should surprise nobody."

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Much of the discussion about abortion in the 2014 Senate race in Iowa has centered around Republican nominee state senator Joni Ernst's 2013 co-sponsoring of a "personhood amendment" to Iowa's constitution.

In a September debate, Ernst responded by arguing her vote in favor of the amendment was "simply a statement that I support life"; at a debate last week, Ernst reaffirmed that she does "support life at conception" while adding that "…there has to be consensus on these issues. Where there is not consensus, there will not be a law."

Her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, has argued that, by extending legal protections to "every person at any stage of development," the amendment supported by Ernst would effectively ban abortion in all cases, and threaten the legality of in vitro fertilization procedures.

The personhood bill was not the only time that Ernst voted on abortion issues as a state senator, however. In 2011, the Iowa State Senate debated S.F. 534, in response to reports that Dr. Leroy Carhart, a late-term abortion provider, intended to move his clinic from Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa, after Nebraska passed a law banning elective abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy.

To prevent this move, Iowa conservatives supported — and the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives passed — a bill that would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks in Iowa.

The majority-Democratic Iowa Senate, however, introduced a more limited bill to would deny the issuance of the "certificate of need" necessary to open a new "specialized outpatient surgical facility" to all late-term abortion clinics except those "located in close proximity to a hospital that is a level II neonatology center or a level III center."

Since few such hospitals exist in Iowa, the bill would have prevented Carhart's move to Cedar Rapids by making it functionally impossible to open a late-term abortion clinic outside of the population centers of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or Davenport.

During the debate, Ernst introduced an amendment broadening the definition of "specialized outpatient surgical facility" from those clinics "in which surgical abortion procedures are performed after the fetus has attained a postfertilization age of 20 weeks or more" to any "free-standing facility, not including a hospital in which surgical abortion procedures are performed."

Such an alteration, if successful, would have extended the bill's restrictions to include all new surgical abortion clinics, rather than only those that performed late-term abortions.

After her amendment failed on a party-line vote, Ernst and the other Republicans in the Iowa Senate joined together to unanimously oppose the version of the bill containing the less-restrictive language.

After the vote, lifenews.com, a pro-life website, described the bill as "a weak bill that supposedly targets late-term abortion practitioner LeRoy Carhart but that does so insufficiently," noting that it "wouldn't have anywhere near the impact of a 20-week abortion ban but would supposedly stop Carhart from moving to Council Bluffs because no such hospital in the Omaha suburb would be able to meet the requirement of the legislation."

When asked for comment, Ernst's campaign spokesperson Gretchen Hamil told BuzzFeed News the amendment "should surprise nobody."

"Joni is proudly pro-life, so this should surprise nobody. As was the case in this debate, the only way to change the law is through consensus, which we currently don't have on this issue. Instead, we should work to find areas of agreement, including ending late-term abortions."

Ilan Ben-Meir is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Ilan Ben-Meir at ilan.ben-meir@buzzfeed.com.

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