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Home / Legal News / Across the Region: Bill would let women sue doctors for emotional distress over abortions
In this Jan. 13, 2014, file photo, state representatives work in the Iowa House on the opening day of the Iowa Legislature at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow a woman who gets an abortion to sue the doctor who performed the procedure if she experiences emotional distress. If passed by the new GOP-controlled Legislature, the measure would be the first of its kind in the country and could make the state vulnerable to costly court challenges. (File photo: Charlie Neibergall)

Across the Region: Bill would let women sue doctors for emotional distress over abortions


Bill would let women sue doctors for emotional distress over abortions

Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow a woman who gets an abortion to sue the doctor who performed the procedure if she experiences emotional distress later.

If approved, it would be the first law of its kind in the U.S.

The proposal, which was endorsed last week by a GOP-led three-member panel of lawmakers, would permit the woman to file a lawsuit at any point in her life, something that goes against typical statute of limitation rules. It could also make the state vulnerable to costly court challenges.

“What we’re asking for is that individuals, doctors and clinics that make money off of women by giving them abortions are simply held accountable,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, the Republican who introduced the bill. “That’s all this does. It protects women from people who would normally be trying to sell them something in a time when they are under the most stress that is kind of imaginable.”

The bill goes next to another committee. It’s unclear how much GOP support the idea has in the Iowa Legislature, though the state’s incoming Republican governor did not dismiss it.

Regardless of whether the proposal advances to the full Legislature, it highlights how much abortion will dominate Iowa politics this year. The governor has already proposed a plan to end state funding for Planned Parenthood by passing up millions of federal Medicaid dollars. Instead, he would tap into a fund that currently helps at-risk youth stay out of the welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Meanwhile, dozens of newly filed bills related to education, labor and taxes are still waiting to be scheduled for discussion. And lawmakers have yet to formally consider any legislation to plug a roughly $110 million shortfall in Iowa’s current budget.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a representative for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the bill would encourage similar action in other Republican-majority statehouses despite a “Pandora’s box” of legal issues.

“It shows that people who are in control are willing to allow incredibly extreme bills to advance in this new leadership,” she said. “All Iowans should be concerned about that.”

Chelgren drafted a similar measure that was briefly discussed in 2013 and 2014. It was stopped in large part by Democrats who controlled the state Senate. After the November election, Republicans took control of both chambers and the governor’s office. Other abortion-restriction bills are expected.

If approved, Chelgren’s proposal would be the first such law in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. The Guttmacher Institute did note a handful of states have laws on legal action related to abortion, but they vary and many are specific to counseling provisions.

However, the measure could be challenged immediately on the grounds that it violates the Constitution, according to Mark Kende of the Constitutional Law Center at Drake University, a private school in Des Moines.

Opponents could argue it would create an undue burden on women by reducing opportunities for them to access a legal medical procedure if doctors avoid offering abortions because of the constant threat of legal action.

“When you look at it more carefully, it’s a threat to the woman because it creates deterrents for doctors to do this,” he said.

Chelgren said federal law requires the state to protect a woman’s mental health.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will succeed Gov. Terry Branstad, who has been nominated to be ambassador to China, did not offer support for the bill at a news conference Tuesday. But she also did not dismiss it. Reynolds said she would wait to see the proposal in its final form.

Daniel Zeno, a legislative liaison for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the measure unfairly singles out abortion among many medical procedures.

“The bill’s intent is clear: To demonize abortion providers, set up an adversarial relationship between provider and patient, shame women and block access to reproductive health care,” he said in a statement.


Court: Police cannot recover restitution for routine stops

The Iowa Supreme Court says law enforcement agencies cannot seek restitution from defendants in drunken driving cases when officers respond during the normal course of their work and not for an emergency.

The court found in opinions filed Friday in three separate drunken driving cases involving Davenport police officers that Iowa law allows recovery of expenses through restitution only when the law enforcement response meets the normal definition of an emergency. The court says “routine law enforcement activities do not qualify.”

In the three cases, patrolling police officers stopped vehicles with drivers suspected of drunken driving and the city sought to recoup the time it took officers to stop the vehicle, investigate and arrest the driver. The amounts sought — $54.50, $317 and $158.60 — were denied.



Railroad whistleblower awarded $1M by jury

A former BNSF Railway employee has won more than $1 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The Lincoln Journal Star says Daniel Monohon, of Ottumwa, Iowa, was fired from a Lincoln branch of Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF in 2014 for what the railroad said was insubordination.

Monohon says he was fired after he questioned BNSF’s policy of requiring employees to wear seatbelts while driving a vehicle that can operate both on rail tracks and a conventional road. Monohon’s attorneys, Corey Stull and Jeanette Stull of Lincoln, argued that his firing was a violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

A federal jury in Iowa agreed and awarded Monohon $1,031,000 in lost pay and other damages.

BNSF says it will ask the court to set aside the verdict and will appeal.



Court allows some Walker probe papers to be public

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of documents from John Doe investigations of Gov. Scott Walker and his associates relating to Walker’s time as Milwaukee county executive and then governor.

The court ordered that several dozen documents be made available to the public. It is unclear how heavily redacted the documents will be.

Documents from the secret investigations had been sealed, though some have been leaked.

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson partially dissented from the decision, saying she favored the release of the documents but did not agree that all the redactions were necessary or consistent. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Grassl Bradley and Daniel Kelly did not participate.

Both John Doe investigations were launched by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. The first, in 2010, resulted in convictions of six of Walker’s aides for actions including stealing money from a veterans’ event and campaigning on public time.

The second, launched in 2012, centered on whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups. The state Supreme Court halted that probe in 2014, saying such coordination is legal as long as it doesn’t become express advocacy, a political term for advertising that specifically asks voters to defeat or elect a candidate.



Landowners sue over Dakota Access easements

About two dozen North Dakota landowners are suing the developer of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline for alleged deceit and fraud in acquiring land easements.

Already, landowners in Iowa await a state judge’s ruling in another easement case regarding the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline. Other court battles are playing out in federal court in North Dakota and Washington, D.C.

The Morton County landowners in the lawsuit, filed this month in U.S. District Court, are seeking more than $4 million in damages from Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. ETP contends the allegations “are without merit,” company spokeswoman Vicki Granado told The Associated Press.

The landowners who are suing represent only about 3 percent of the 800 North Dakota landowners who provided easements to Dakota Access, according to Granado.

Those suing say Dakota Access engaged in unfair tactics and fraud while negotiating to lay pipeline on private land, resulting in compensation that was as much as nine times lower than what other landowners got. Landowners also allege they were told if they didn’t agree to the offered amount, they faced losing money or getting nothing either because their land would be condemned through eminent domain or the pipeline would be moved elsewhere.

“Dakota Access’s representations to the Morton County landowners were false representations and deceptive,” the lawsuit states. The company has until about the end of the month to file its response in court.

The pipeline is to move North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. It’s nearly complete, but work is stalled in North Dakota while ETP battles the federal government in court in Washington for permission to lay pipe under the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux and others fear any spill would contaminate drinking water.

ETP also faces a lawsuit from about a dozen landowners in Iowa, where a decision is pending. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the project permit, which was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, claiming the board illegally took farmland through eminent domain because the pipeline provides no public service to state residents. The company argues the case is moot since the pipeline is already in the ground, but some landowners say if they win they want the pipe dug up.

In a separate federal lawsuit in North Dakota, pipeline opponents are suing law enforcement for what they claim is excessive force during a Nov. 20 clash over a blockaded bridge near the protest encampment and question the credibility of alleged threats detailed against police and public officials. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland will rule later.

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