Government

Iowa bill holds doctors harmless for not warning of birth defects

House panel also advances hit-and-run measure after ISU case

The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Parents would have no cause of action to sue a doctor who failed to inform them their child might be born with birth defects under a bill approved on a party-line vote Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

House File 2165 arose as a result of a finding by the Iowa Supreme Court that parents could sue a doctor for failing to notify them of a potential birth defect. In that case, Pamela Pullman sued doctors and a Fort Madison hospital because she said would have aborted the fetus if she had been told. Her child developed complications, including cerebral palsy.

Floor manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, read from the majority and minority opinions in that case, both suggesting the Legislature is the appropriate policymaking body.

“We’re talking about public policy here, folks,” he said, encouraging committee members to support the bill that was backed by groups against abortion rights and opposed by groups in favor of abortion rights.

The bill would allow doctors to withhold information without consequences and create a lower standard of care for pregnant women, argued Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.

Not every parent told about a potential birth defect would choose abortion, she said.

“Advance knowledge could help save the life of a baby born with special needs,” she said, noting that in some cases complications are addressed by in utero surgery.

The committee also approved, 18-3, legislation named for a Vinton woman killed by a hit-and-run driver, making it a serious misdemeanor if a driver fails to report a fatal or injury crash as soon as he or she is aware of it.

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HF 428 is a response to the December 2015 death of Emmalee Jacobs, a Vinton freshman at Iowa State University. She was struck by a CyRide bus while crossing a street. The driver was charged with leaving the scene of the crash. However, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after a court ruled the prosecution must prove he was aware he struck someone.

The bill applies only to the driver of the vehicle involved and calls for the mandatory revocation of the driver’s license if the driver is found guilty.

Iowa law protecting pets and companion animals would be strengthened under HSB 608, which was approved 20-1. The law would apply to companion animals, not livestock, game, wild or fur-bearing animals, fish and reptiles.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, asked floor manager Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, to add language exempting people who raise and butcher rabbits for meat and fur.

“We need something in there to protect these people who are butchering their bunnies for good reason,” she said.

Paustian agreed, but noted that, in general, people don’t butcher and eat companion animals.

Similar legislation, SF 2181, is pending floor action in the Senate.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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