Iowa's predominantly Republican legislature passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

It's a significant step towards enacting one of the most restrictive laws of its kind in the United States, which would pave the way for a showdown in the US Supreme Court.

The "heartbeat" bill, which would ban abortions as early as six weeks - around the time women generally feel early signs of pregnancy and before many even realise they're pregnant - was passed yesterday by the Iowa House of Representatives, 51 to 46.

The state Senate passed the bill 29 to 17 today, sending it on to Governor Kim Reynolds, R, who has said abortion is "equivalent to murder."


Representative Shannon Lundgren, R, called the bill "a courageous step" that sends the message that Iowa "will defend its most vulnerable, those without a voice, our unborn children" while speaking on the House floor.

But Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D, slammed her Republican colleagues. "So what made you decide to vote for this bill today?" she said. "Obviously, there are 51 members of this body that feel they know more than the medical experts on what is good medical practice."

The bill would require women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound, at which time a physician will detect if there's a heartbeat. The bill also would prohibit someone from acquiring, providing, receiving, transferring or using a fetal body part in Iowa.

The bill follows similar other legislation in other states. The governors of Mississippi and Kentucky have recently signed into law bills that ban abortion after 15 weeks and after 11 weeks, respectively. Federal judges have temporarily blocked those bills.

But these antiabortion bills are meant to set up legal challenges that would take the case to the US Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that prevented states from banning abortions outright.

Republicans are banking on an opportunity for President Trump to nominate a conservative judge who could help overturn the 1973 ruling. Centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, is said to be considering retirement. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Bayer, two of the court's liberals, are 85 and 79, respectively.

According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa Republicans said during a debate yesterday that they hope the law faces a legal challenge, so that it can advance to the Supreme Court. The paper also reported that exceptions in cases of rape and incest were added to the bill before the Senate passed it.

Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa has already predicted an "expensive, lengthy legal battle" if Reynolds signs the bill into law.