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Guest Opinion: Fetal heartbeat law devalues medicine and Iowa women

Iowa+Gov.+Kim+Reynolds+speaks+during+her+first+Condition+of+the+State+address+in+the+Iowa+State+Capitol+in+Des+Moines+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+9%2C+2018.+Reynolds+took+over+the+governor+office+in+May+of+2017.+%28Joseph+Cress%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during her first Condition of the State address in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Reynolds took over the governor office in May of 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during her first Condition of the State address in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Reynolds took over the governor office in May of 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during her first Condition of the State address in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Reynolds took over the governor office in May of 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)


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UI Carver College of Medicine students and an alumna speak out against Iowa fetal-heartbeat law.

For most of our childhoods growing up in the Midwest, the Iowa we called home was a swing state proud of its investments in education, was welcoming to refugees from around the world, and was the third U.S. state to legalize marriage equality. We used to proudly tell friends the University of Iowa had a historic number of women, eight to be exact, in the inaugural medical-school class of 1870.

We are now ashamed to admit the Iowa governor just signed the most restrictive anti-woman law in the country.

As citizens, as physicians and physicians-in-training, and as Iowans, we submitted our opinions to the Office of Gov. Kim Reynolds in strong opposition to Senate File 359: An Act Prohibiting and Requiring Certain Actions Relating to a Fetus and Providing Penalties. In face of its passage, we urge other Iowans to do the same.

RELATED: Supporters and opponents discuss opinions on new ‘heartbeat bill’ during a protest

For every woman seeking an abortion, the law now requires doctors to perform an abdominal ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the physician cannot perform the abortion.

Working in primary-care clinics, we have counseled countless women who carefully weighed the complex social, financial, and medical considerations whether to continue or end their pregnancies. No matter what their choice, we connect with our patients as human beings first through respect and support.

No doctors should have to practice in an environment in which doing their jobs and caring for patients is a crime. The bill in question grants women legal immunity for seeking an abortion, but it does not offer the same protection for physicians.

The medical-student community, the UI Hospitals & Clinics OB-GYN Department, and the state Board of Regents are strongly opposed to SF 359. This bill is detrimental to women’s health care across the entire state, and the people of Iowa deserve better.

RELATED: Reynolds signs ‘heartbeat bill’ into law

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Iowa ranks second to last in number of OB-GYN physicians per capita of women. The only OB-GYN residency in the state is at risk of losing accreditation.

The state of essential women’s health-care services was already decimated by then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s rejection of more than $3 million in Medicaid funding in 2017. That choice closed four of 12 Planned Parenthood clinics, particularly in southwest rural Iowa, robbing women of vital preventive health services such as Pap smears, mammograms, and contraceptive care.

We cannot afford to pass more draconian, restrictive legislation that devalues medicine and devalues women.

While independent, women-centered facilities such the Emma Goldman Clinic still exist in Iowa City, a nonexistent public-transportation system between rural and urban areas of the state means women forgo essential health care.

RELATED: Guest Opinion: UI medical students oppose fetal-heartbeat bill

As medical professionals, we cannot turn our backs on our patients. Abortion is health care. It is a common surgical procedure backed by evidence-based medicine. This law doesn’t put patients first. It could destabilize the entire women’s health-care system in Iowa.

We urge our representatives to oppose this dangerous legislation. Let doctors be doctors. Trust Iowa women, who in turn trust their physicians, to provide sound, scientific, and safe medical care.

Melissa Palma, M.D. and graduate of the UI Carver College of Medicine

— Sarah Gross, M.D. candidate and president of Medical Students for Choice at the UI Carver College of Medicine

— Deepika Raghavan, Hannah Pope, M.D. candidates and co-presidents of the American Medical Women’s Association at the UI Carver College of Medicine

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