A new Iowa bill would allow a woman to sue the doctor who performed her abortion if she later experiences emotional distress. The bill would let the woman file the abortion-related lawsuit at any point in her life—meaning doctors could be sued for procedures they performed decades earlier. If passed, the bill would become the first law of its kind in the country.
Iowa Senator Mark Chelgren, who drafted the measure, said the bill’s intention is to hold abortion providers “accountable.” “That’s all this does,” Chelgren said. “It protects women from people who would normally be trying to sell them something in a time when they are under the most stress.”
But legal experts fear the measure’s effects will be far more sinister. “When you look at it more carefully, it’s a threat to the woman because it creates deterrents for doctors to do this,” Mark Kende, J.D., director of the Constitutional Law Center at Drake University, told the Associated Press. Kende said the bill could be found unconstitutional, because it may create an undue burden on women by limiting their chances to access abortion. (Basically: If the bill scares doctors away from performing abortions, women will have reduced access to a safe, legal medical procedure.)
Also worth noting: Comprehensive research has actually shown that having an abortion doesn’t harm a woman’s mental health. A longitudinal JAMA Psychiatry study followed 956 women—who had either received abortion or sought abortions and been denied them—for five years. Researchers found that within eight days, the women who weren’t able to have abortions had “significantly” more anxiety, lower self-esteem, and problems with life satisfaction than those who had abortions. As time passed, both groups of women showed symptoms of similar mental health—indicating that there were no longterm effects for either group.
From here, the bill will go to another committee before ultimately being passed to Iowa governor Terry Branstad. Chelgren has previously drafted similar legislation, but the measure was shut down by Senate democrats after being discussed in 2013 and 2014.
Feeling motivated to act? There are tons of ways to make your voice heard. SELF’s resources on finding activist opportunities and getting involved in policy decisions are great places to start. If you’re passionate about women’s access to reproductive health care in particular, you can also consider: donating to the Center for Reproductive Rights, volunteering for NARAL Pro-Choice America, donating to the Reproductive Health Access Project, or volunteering for Planned Parenthood. Other organizations can help families in need access affordable childcare, job training, and much-needed food and household supplies.
Also: Why Trump’s Victory Has Some Women Considering IUDs