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May 21st, 2011

If Only There Were Such a Thing as a Pro-Life Democrat

By Nathan Tucker

On May 3rd, Democrat Senators Tom Hancock and Joe Seng joined the 24 Senate Republicans to force House File 657, the late-term abortion bill, out of committee where it had been stalled.  As with the marriage amendment, however, their conviction was short-lived.  Less than two weeks after proclaiming their pro-life bona fides to their constituents, these same two Democratic lawmakers voted Monday for late-term abortions.

Senator Seng defended his initial vote for HF 657 by claiming that he was a “right-to-life Democrat.”  Likewise, Senator Hancock told The Iowa Independent that “I am a pro-life, Catholic Democrat.  I have never wavered on my stance on abortion.”  He went so far as to praise the “very diverse feeling in our caucus on this bill.”

Whatever diversity exists, however, ceases when it comes time to cast a vote that matters.  Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal assigned HF 657 to Senator Joe Bolkcom, the husband of Karen Kubby, a potential Socialist Party presidential nominee in 2012 and former director of the Emma Goldman abortion clinic in Iowa City.   Promptly burying the bill, Bolkcom instead introduced Senate File 534 that would require late-term abortions to be provided in “close proximity to a hospital that is a level II neonatology center or level III center.”

There are only five hospitals in Iowa that meet this requirement:  two in Des Moines and one each in Davenport, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids.  Because Council Bluffs doesn’t have one, Bolkcom believes his bill would prevent the well-known late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart’s planned move from Nebraska to Council Bluffs after Nebraska passed legislation similar to HF 657 last year.

Carhart, however, would remain free to move to a city in Iowa that does have the required hospital.  When asked about this, Senator Hancock said “he ‘asked that very question’ when Senate Democrats discussed this bill.  He was told the bill ‘will be narrowed’ so that no one could get a certificate of need to open such a clinic anywhere in Iowa.”  Either he was lying or he was lied to, for the bill was never so narrowly drafted and no other Democrat claimed that it was.

When asked about his vote, Senator Seng said that he was “rather upset” with Republicans for not supporting SF 534.  “They want the whole piece of pie,” Seng said of Republicans. “You have to crawl sometimes before you walk.”  Problem is, Senators Seng and Hancock were unwilling to even crawl.

While several Republican amendments to SF 534 were ruled out of order by “pro-life” Senate President Jack Kibbie and thus never voted on, Seng and Hancock had the opportunity to vote with Republicans on amendments that would have “narrowed” the bill.  Senator Joni Ernst offered an amendment to include hospitals in the bill’s definition of a “surgical facility,” and Senator Merlin Bartz offered an amendment that would have required “the level II neonatology center or level III center” to be one located in a county with a population under 4,100, which obviously doesn’t exist.  Both amendments failed on a party-line vote of 26-23.  If Seng and Hancock had broken with their party to “narrow” the bill, the amendments would have passed 25-24.

Democrats have argued that their bill would keep Carhart from moving within “close proximity” of one of the five permitted hospitals because he would be unable to show that his clinic was necessary.  SF 534 requires a late-term abortion provider to file a certificate of need and demonstrate, among other things, the need for the facility.  Because there aren’t many late-term abortions in Iowa, the argument goes, a new late-term abortion provider would have a hard sell to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).

First, it should be noted that current Iowa Code, unchanged by SF 534, only requires “a new institutional health service or changed institutional health service” to request a certificate of need.  Since the “close proximity” language only applies to those seeking a certificate of need, that requirement only applies to new or changed clinics.  SF 534, therefore, does not affect the ability of existing clinics, including those in Council Bluffs, to perform late-term abortions.

Second, SF 534 does not modify or “narrow” the definition of “need,” one of 18 criteria weighed by the IDPH in granting a certificate of need.  It does not, for instance, require a showing that there is a market in a particular location for just late-term abortions.  Given that Carhart performs abortions at all stages of development, it would not be too difficult for him to show that there is a “need” for his clinic given that there were 5,829 abortions in Iowa in 2009 and 6,486 in 2008.

Third, Senator Bolkcom has repeated ad nauseam that “there were only six abortions in Iowa that occurred after 20 weeks” in 2009.  He dubiously claims that “all of them involved some kind of medical complication,” and that most of them were performed in Iowa City.  Alone among media outlets, the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil noted that Bolkcom did not cite sources for his figures.

According to IDPH figures provided to The Iowa Republican (TIR) (and the Des Moines Register, though they opted not to use them), Bolkcom is correct that there were only 6 confirmed abortions performed at 20 weeks or later in 2009.  There were, however, 16 such abortions in 2008, 18 in 2007, 10 in 2006, 25 in 2005, 11 in 2004, and 13 in 2003.  (Failure to report these statistics is only a simple misdemeanor, and IDPH informed TIR that such failures would be all but impossible to prosecute.)

Funny that neither Bolkcom nor the Register would mention those statistics.  Citing rules of confidentiality, the IDPH was unable to confirm Bolkcom’s claims that the abortions were predominately performed in Iowa City.  They were also unable to confirm the reasons for the abortions because clinics are not required by statute to provide that information.  It appears, consequently, that an abortion provider is violating HIPAA by passing on confidential information to Bolkcom.

Iowa statistics are not yet available for 2010, making it impossible to know if there was an increased demand in Iowa for late-term abortions after Nebraska’s ban went into effect last fall.  Statistics show, however, that roughly 200 Iowans went to Nebraska for abortions in both 2009 and 2010, though it is unknown how many were for late-term abortions performed by Carhart because Nebraska does not require that information.

Carhart was an associate of the infamous Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller for eleven years until the latter’s murder in 2009.  There were 343 confirmed post-20 week abortions in Kansas in 2007, and 418 in 2006.  In 2008, Tiller’s last full year of practice, there were 5,131 total abortions in Kansas (48.2%) performed on out-of-staters.

Kansas, Idaho, Indiana, Florida, and Oklahoma have already joined Nebraska in banning abortions at or after 20 weeks, and Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and South Carolina are considering similar bans.

With such shrinking real estate for late-term abortionists, Iowa may well be on its way towards becoming the late-term abortion capital of the U.S. Even if SF 534 went into effect and Carhart was unable to get approval from the IDPH to move here, Planned Parenthood, which does not oppose the bill, is ready to fill the void with 17 existing clinics in Iowa.

And if neither bill is passed, Planned Parenthood is more than ready to compete with Carhart for the $2,000-per-procedure market with the already-announced opening of six new clinics in Carter Lake, Clinton, Mason City, Muscatine, Ottumwa, and Marshalltown, bringing the total number of its Iowa clinics to 23.

If only there were such a thing as a pro-life Democrat in the legislature, and if only the mainstream media served as more than mere stenographers for the Democratic Party…

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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