Government

Iowa's so-called 'personhood bill' dies in House

Fetal homicide bill won't advance after wording change in Senate

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

DES MOINES — A bill to criminalize the nonconsensual termination of a pregnancy had strong bipartisan support, but it won’t be passed by the Iowa Legislature this year.

The bill was pulled from the House Republican agenda because a wording change touched off charges it was attempt to ban all abortions.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, would support that but pulled the bill from his agenda Wednesday after pro-abortion rights groups said an anti-abortion senator’s amendment turned it into a so-called personhood bill that created legal protections for an unborn fetus from the moment of conception.

Senate File 523 will not clear the Legislature’s self-imposed “funnel” deadline Friday for bills to be passed by either the House or Senate and a committee in the other chamber.

It was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. After Republicans adopted an amendment during floor debate that changed references from the termination of a pregnancy to the death of an “unborn person” the debate quickly changed.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, called the amendment an attempt to establish “personhood” for a fetus, “which is quite extreme and unconstitutional.”

“It recognizes that is a person in the womb and, as such, should have rights,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who offered the amendment.

After the amendment was added, it passed the Senate on a party-line vote, 31-18.

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“I’m pro-life and believe an unborn person is exactly what we’re talking about,” Holt said, “but putting in ‘unborn person’ clearly is a trigger that brings the abortion question into the debate ... even though this bill doesn’t touch abortion. This bill is all about ‘without the consent of the mother.’”

Jamie Burch of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland agreed there was virtually no opposition to the original bill, “but the addition of personhood language changes the intention of the bill. It automatically became an abortion bill,” she said.

According to Chapman, 29 states have similar fetal homicide laws that apply to fetuses from the moment of conception.

“So I find it very unfortunate that the House doesn’t have the votes to take up a common-sense bill that other states have passed,” he said. “I can tell you it is frustrating. There’s no question.”

It was his understanding, Chapman said, that Holt “simply didn’t have the votes.”

“You have some individuals in the House who don’t want to deal with a single social issue,” Chapman said. “This isn’t a social issue. This is about fetal homicide. To use that as a crutch not to support the bill is really unfortunate.”

Holt rejected that and said he will bring the issue to the Legislature again next year.

“We’ll get it done next year, he said. “Whether we use the term ‘unborn child’ or ‘termination of a pregnancy’ we’ll make a determination as we go along. I don’t have a problem with the language, however, we just need more time to vet it out.”

Nineteen states use the term “unborn child” in their fetal homicide laws, “so we’re not breaking new ground,” Holt said.

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He believes anti-abortion lawmakers should put their energy into passing a resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution to say there is no constitutional right to abortion.

“That is where the real battle for life needs to be, so I don’t think this is a setback,” he said, referring to SF 523.

Holt also pulled a bill to make it illegal for parents to show their children sexual images that meet the legal description of “obscene material” from the House Judiciary Committee to-do list.

“It’s disgusting to think about a parent supplying obscene material to a child,” Holt said. However, he is going to let SF 460, which was approved 48-0 by the Senate, die because the issues it raises are “pretty complex.”

“Just how much government involvement and intrusion do you want into families and into parental authority?” Holt said.

Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a former investigator with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, sponsored the bill because he said he saw cases in which sex offenders showed their own children sexual images to groom them for future abuse. In the original version, it applied only to parents who are child sex offenders from showing obscene material to children. Kinney was concerned when his bill was amended in the Senate that it would become too broad.

Although disappointed, Kinney said he will try again next year.

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

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