Doctors Performing Abortions Could Be Sued for Emotional Distress

Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would effectively drive all abortion providers out of the state—but as ever, it's under the false rhetoric of protecting women.
January 18, 2017, 1:55pm
Photo by Miquel Llonch via Stocksy

In the latest outrage against reproductive rights, Iowa politicians are currently considering a bill that would allow women to sue their physicians for emotional distress or physical injury as a result of their abortion.

The Iowa Globe Gazette reports that Senate File 26 would enable women to file a civil suit against the doctor that performed her abortion if it was judged that she suffered distress as a result of their "negligence or failure to obtain informed consent prior to performance of the abortion." Women would be able to sue their physicians at any point during their lifetime.


Republican state senator Mark Chelgren—who has consistently voted against abortion rights—proposed the bill. (When he's not attacking reproductive healthcare and the hardworking physicians that administer it, he also likes to advocate the death penalty for undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies and attempt to return to the US.)

Read more: How a Trump Presidency Will Eviscerate Your Abortion Rights

"It's a question of whether or not somebody who in good, healthy mind is sold a bill of goods that turns out to be something that it's not," Chelgren said in comments reported by the Globe Gazette. "When someone is under a lot of stress and they're making decisions, we need medical professionals who are looking after their best interests and not looking after how much money they can make off of them."

In essence, the bill would exploit medical malpractice provisions with the intent of undermining Roe v. Wade. The bill is just another addition to the long list of abortion restrictions being implemented by Republican lawmakers at state level across the US. It would make it nearly impossible for physicians to obtain medical liability insurance, and deter them from performing abortions for fear of expensive civil suits—thereby reducing the availability of abortion itself.

The Iowa House of Representatives. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Iowa is at the epicenter of the conservative anti-abortion movement. In April 2016, Republicans in the state Senate advanced a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. And in January 2017, Iowa congressman Steve King attempted to copy Ohio's much-criticized (and ultimately unsuccessful) heartbeat bill and effectively ban abortion across the state.

Opposing Senate File 26, Democrat senator Nate Boulton described it as a legislative overreach that would have a "chilling effect" on physicians. Effectively, it would "run providers out of our state," he warned.

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"This is an absolutely extraordinary measure," says Clare Murphy of BPAS, a UK reproductive rights charity. "If passed, it would deter even the most courageous doctor from treating any woman—which is exactly the point of the bill."

The Des Moines Gazette reports that Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who is tipped to take over from her boss, Governor Terry Branstad, has adopted a "wait and see" approach to the bill. "It doesn't really serve the purpose to head down a path where it just gets tied up in the courts and nothing ever happens," she said, which may indicate that the bill will not pass in its current form.

Nonetheless, reproductive health advocates warn that the existence of the proposal alone is chilling. "The very fact the bill has been mooted speaks to the fact that Trump's victory has really emboldened those opposed to abortion in the US," Murphy warns.