(CNSNews.com) -- In reaction to legislation advancing in the Iowa legislature that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy, 68 faith leaders in Iowa issued a letter stating their support for abortion and their support for women "to make their own healthcare decisions."
In a letter published in the Des Moines Register, March 15, the religious figures said, "As faith leaders, we want to use our collective voices to stand with Iowa women in support of their constitutional right to make independent healthcare decisions, including the right to an abortion."
"It is not the role of the government to infringe upon a woman's right to make private medical decisions," they said. "The constitutional right of women to make their own healthcare decisions is being attacked in the Iowa Legislature."
In late February, the Iowa Senate voted (30-20) to approve legislation that would ban abortions, except in the case of a medical emergency, after a baby's heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks into pregnancy.
A similar measure in the Iowa House recently passed in its House Human Resources Committee. A public hearing was held on the measure last week. The legislation now moves to the full House for debate.
In their letter, the faith leaders continued, "There is a broad spectrum of beliefs within the faith community regarding the beginning of life. We do not wish to debate that issue because, quite simply, our personal religious beliefs are not relevant to the legal debate. Our personal religious beliefs should not be the driver of public policy.... Another person's theological understanding of when life begins cannot trump the rights of women."
"Some in the Iowa Legislature are inserting themselves into the most personal decisions that women may have to make," reads the letter. "They are attempting to damage the rights of Iowa women by advancing a ban on abortion about six weeks after conception.... Every woman deserves to consult her values, faith, and doctor when making a decision about her body and her pregnancy. Any law that strips a woman of her faith and tries instead to legislate her values for her is immoral."
"We stand with the women of Iowa and their constitutional right to make their own healthcare decisions," reads the letter. "We ask the Iowa Legislature to do the same."
Among the 68 letter-signers are Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa; Laurie Haller, the resident bishop for the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church; and Rabbi David Kaufman, Reform Judaism in Des Moines. Many of the other signers are with the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Commenting on the legislation, the Iowa Catholic Conference said it "supports the life-affirming intent of 'heartbeat' abortion legislation such as Senate File 2281. We appreciate legislators for their efforts to advance the protection of unborn children and we remain committed to helping with efforts aimed at resolving questions regarding the bill’s constitutionality."
"Science shows that life begins at conception," said the ICC. "May we continue to work together in solidarity on ways to protect vulnerable people, including the unborn."
State Sen. Amy Sinclair (R) told the legislature, “People in this chamber with a beating heart, please take a moment with me to reflect on what it means to be human, to be a person with rights, to aggressively defend your own right to life and to defend your reasonable expectation that your government should actively support you and all other individuals with a beating heart in that very same endeavor."