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Branstad unsure of abortion bills

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 12:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 12:34 p.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers rallied in the Iowa state capitol Monday, but many of them said changing state abortion laws remains a challenge given the politically divided Legislature.

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were among the speakers at the event, which was sponsored by nine advocacy groups. Branstad told the roughly 100 attendees that the founding fathers had purposely spelled out “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Reynolds said the anti-abortion movement supports women.

“I think they like to sometimes classify a pro-life woman as not really giving women a choice. I’m standing strong for those who can’t protect themselves,” she said.

But earlier in the day, Branstad said he wasn’t sure lawmakers would approve legislature that would tighten Iowa’s abortion laws — which bar the procedure after the second trimester unless deemed medically necessary by a physician — given that Republicans hold a majority in the House and Democrats control the Senate.

“Considering the makeup of the General Assembly, I’m not sure what’s going to happen in this General Assembly,” Branstad said. “I have always tried to be present and supportive on right to life issues.”

So far this year, abortion debate has not reached the intensity of 2011, when House Republicans passed a near-ban of abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and the Senate approved a measure allowing late-term abortions in only five specialized hospitals.

Those measures were prompted by an announcement by Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, who said he would open an Iowa clinic — a plan he has yet to carry out. Neither side was able to compromise two years ago.

Current proposed legislation in the Iowa House this year includes a bill that would classify abortion as murder and a proposal to ban doctors from prescribing abortion drugs to patients they confer with over a web camera.

Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, said most efforts to restrict abortion have been blocked in the Senate in recent years.

“We do have a split legislature,” said Bowen. “We have many pro-life senators that are involved in crafting legislation. But we also have (Senate Majority Leader) Mike Gronstal and quite often, if not always, he blocks pro-life legislation.”

Democratic Sen. Jack Hatch said he doesn’t expect the legislation to advance. But he said Republican lawmakers will likely again try to block the use of state Medicaid funds for a small number of abortions performed annually in cases of incest, rape or when the life of the mother is at risk.

“These are not recreational abortions, they are medically needed,” Hatch said, who said he thought any such effort would ultimately fail.

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