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Iowa lawmakers approve banning abortion at 'fetal heartbeat'

DES MOINES (AP) — Republican legislators sent Iowa's governor a bill early Wednesday that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, propelling the state overnight to the front of a push among conservative statehouses jockeying to enact the nation's most-restrictive regulations on the procedure.

Critics say the so-called "heartbeat" bill, which now awaits the signature of anti-abortion GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, would ban the medical procedure before some women even know they're pregnant. That could set up the state for a legal challenge over its constitutionality, including from the same federal appeals court that two years ago struck down similar legislation approved in Arkansas and North Dakota.

Jane Bloomingdale was one of six House Republicans to vote against the bill. She represents the 51st District, which includes Worth, Mitchell, Howard and part of Winneshiek counties.

"The bill passed yesterday will most certainly face a court challenge, which is what some are hoping for," Bloomingdale said via email Wednesday. "I don’t believe that is the most productive way to protect life, which is why I voted against the bill."

Bloomingdale added she had supported a "20-week" abortion bill last session, different than the bill passed this year.

"The 20 week bill that I supported last session won’t be held up in court for years, having an immediate effect and saving countless lives," she said.

"This bill has been under consideration all session," Bloomingdale added about the bill that passed. "The Senate passed it months ago. I, along with my House colleagues, have had lots of time to listen to my constituents on both sides of the issue. The House amended the bill, debated it for hours, and passed it."

Backers of the legislation, which failed to get a single Democratic vote in either Iowa chamber, expressed hope it could challenge Roe vs. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established women have a right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable. Conservatives say an influx of conservative judicial appointments under President Donald Trump could make it a possibility.

"Today we will begin this journey as Iowa becomes ground zero, now nationally, in the life movement," Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, said during the floor debate.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that the legislation was an "embarrassment" for the state.

"By passing an intentionally unconstitutional bill, Iowa Republicans have declared that they do not care about the foundational values of our state, or Iowa's future," she said. "They do not care how much taxpayer money will be spent on a lawsuit, they don't care how many women's lives will be damaged because of inadequate access to care, or how many families may choose to go elsewhere because Iowa is no longer a state where they are safe to live and work."

The House began debate over the measure early Tuesday afternoon, voting it out shortly before midnight with six Republicans there opposing it. The Senate then picked it up, with approval shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday. The nearly back-to-back votes come as lawmakers seek to pass a state budget and tax cuts later this week.

Although Reynolds hasn't said publicly if she'll sign the bill into law, press secretary Brenna Smith said in an email the governor "is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn."

Several states have attempted to advance abortion bans in recent years. Mississippi passed a law earlier this year banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but it's on hold after a court challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear similar heartbeat bills North Dakota and Arkansas approved in 2013 that were rejected by the appeals court.

The Iowa legislation contains some exemptions, including allowing abortions after a detectable heartbeat to save a pregnant woman's life or in some cases of rape and incest. Another provision prohibits some uses of fetal tissue, with exemptions for research. A woman would have to report a rape within 45 days to law enforcement or a physician to qualify for an exemption to the abortion ban. Incest must be reported within 140 days to receive an exemption.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, said that "absolutely nothing" would stop a "desperate" woman from lying to a physician, who cannot investigate whether a pregnancy is the result of incest and cannot report it to law enforcement. Conversely, she said a child who is raped but delays reporting it until showing signs of pregnancy could be denied an abortion.

"Children who have been brutally raped, who are scared to death, who have little tiny bones and maybe forcing their rapist's baby out of there is not in their best interest — too bad for them under this law," Wolfe said.

The bill provides immunity to women receiving abortions but not to doctors who perform them. Their licenses could be revoked for violations, and prosecutors could consider criminal charges against them. That's not addressed by the bill.

Republicans at the Iowa Capitol have long sought to approve legislation that would further restrict abortion, and their flip of the state Senate chamber in the 2016 election gave them a trifecta of GOP power for the first time in nearly 20 years. Last session, they passed a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is in effect.

A provision in that legislation requiring a three-day waiting period for abortions — among the longest wait periods in the country — was challenged in court. It remains on hold amid litigation being considered by the state Supreme Court.

Iowa Republicans have long said the 20-week ban was just the start.

"A baby has become something we can throw away. This bill says it's time to change the way we think about unborn life," said Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Janesville Republican.

—Globe Gazette reporter Steve Bohnel contributed reporting.

Trump hires Clinton impeachment lawyer

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday hired a veteran attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment process as the White House shifted to a more aggressive approach to a special counsel investigation that has reached a critical stage.

The White House announced the hiring of lawyer Emmet Flood after disclosing the retirement of Ty Cobb, who for months has been the administration's point person dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller.

It's the latest shakeup for a legal team grappling with unresolved questions on how to protect the president from legal and political jeopardy in Mueller's Russia probe, which is nearing the one-year mark.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Cobb had been discussing the decision for weeks and would retire at the end of May and that Flood would be joining the White House staff to "represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt."

"I'm deeply grateful to the president and the chief of staff for this opportunity to serve my country," Cobb told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. "It's been a privilege, and I'm confident that the matter will be in good hands with Emmet Flood."

The replacement of Cobb with Flood may usher in a more adversarial stance toward the Mueller team as Trump's lawyers debate whether to make the president available for an interview with the special counsel and brace for the prospect of a grand jury subpoena if they refuse.

Although Cobb does not personally represent the president, he has functioned as a critical point person for Mueller's document and interview requests, coordinated dealings with prosecutors and worked closely with Trump's personal lawyers. He has repeatedly urged cooperation with the investigation in hopes of bringing it to a quick end, and he has viewed his role as largely finished now that interviews with current and former White House officials have been completed.

Yet Flood, who was embroiled in the bitterly partisan Clinton impeachment fight 20 years ago, may well advocate a more confrontational approach. His law firm, Williams & Connolly, is one of Washington's most prominent, with a reputation for aggressive advocacy for its clients and a history of tangling with the government. It has also represented senior White House officials, including presidents.

Flood, a former law clerk to the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, has defended former Vice President Dick Cheney in a lawsuit brought by former CIA official Valerie Plame and represented President George W. Bush in executive-privilege disputes with Congress - suggesting he is well-versed in the powers of the presidency and may invoke those authorities as the Mueller investigation moves forward.

Flood was always the top choice of White House counsel Don McGahn for the job Cobb was given last summer, according to a person familiar with the hiring decision who described Flood as a "fighter." The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Cobb and McGahn hold different views on how cooperative the White House should be with the special counsel investigation.

Cobb's retirement, though not a surprise, was nonetheless the latest evolution for a legal team marked by turnover.

Trump's lead personal lawyer, John Dowd, left in March. Another attorney whom Trump tried to bring on ultimately passed because of conflicts, and the president two weeks ago added former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a pair of former prosecutors, Martin and Jane Raskin, to work alongside mainstay lawyer Jay Sekulow.

Critical decisions lie ahead. The president's legal team has not committed him to an interview with Mueller, who has dozens of questions on a broad array of topics he'd like to ask. Trump initially said he was eager for an interview, but he hasn't said so recently. His view of Mueller soured further after raids last month that targeted one of his personal lawyers, Michael Cohen, in a separate investigation.

Those interview negotiations are hugely consequential, especially after Dowd confirmed to The Associated Press this week that Mueller's team in March raised the prospect of issuing a grand jury subpoena for Trump, an extraordinary move that would seek to force a sitting president to testify under oath.

It was not immediately clear in what context the possibility of a subpoena was raised or how serious Mueller's prosecutors were about such a move.

If Mueller's team decides to subpoena Trump, the president could still fight it in court or refuse to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

Trump lashed out against the investigation in familiar fashion Wednesday, tweeting: "There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap)."

Also Wednesday, Trump echoed the concerns of a small group of House conservatives who have been criticizing the Justice Department for not turning over certain investigation documents.

"What are they afraid of?" Trump tweeted. "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!"

It was unclear what Trump meant by "get involved."

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Floyd County voters OK $13.5 million jail bond

CHARLES CITY — Floyd County voters overwhelmingly approved a $13.5 million bond issue Tuesday to pay for a new law enforcement center and related improvements to the 77-year-old courthouse.

More than 68.7 percent of those voting supported the measure, according to unofficial results from the county auditor’s office. The referendum required 60 percent voter approval.

“I’m very, very happy with the outcome,” said County Supervisor Linda Tjaden. “This was just amazing tonight to come in with more than 68 percent.”

The bonds will fund an addition on the west side of the courthouse to include a 32-bed jail, sheriff’s offices, communications center and emergency operations center.

The project also includes an atrium and entrance area between the courthouse and law enforcement center, while adding a central heating and cooling system and replacing windows in the existing courthouse now cooled with multiple window air-conditioners.

Tjaden joined Sheriff Jeff Crooks and members of his staff in touring the county providing informational meetings. Crooks opened the current jail on the fourth floor of the courthouse for tours.

“I want to think all of that paid off,” Tjaden said. “I think we had educated voters casting ballots.

“The jail tours were a tremendous help, too,” she added. “I think it was an awakening for most all citizens that were not aware of our current situation.”

The state jail inspector in 2013 declared the current jail no longer met current standards. County officials were faced with the possibility of having to close the jail and transport inmates to other counties.

Among many issues, the layout made it difficult or impossible to properly segregate different groups of inmates; many items didn’t meet guidelines, including the bunk lengths; and the jail was not set up to keep the general public and visitors from coming into frequent contact with inmates being escorted in the building.

The bond issue was favored in all quarters of the county, with the heaviest support coming from the three Charles City polling places at 74 percent. The lowest support at 52 percent came from the Rock Grove-Rudd voting precinct.

Overall voter turnout was just 17.5 percent.

Tjaden said she expects the final building design to start right way with an eye to open construction bids later this year and start construction this fall or early next spring.