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Personhood Squelched in Alaska, Pops Up in Iowa

Robin Marty

Alaska has found that "personhood" is blatantly unconstitutional. So why is Iowa still trying to pass it?

An attempt to pass a “personhood” amendment that would ban all abortion in Alaska finally ran through the last of its legal challenges this week. Meanwhile, the Iowa legislature remains determined to put forth its own version of “personhood,” despite the fact that such measures have repeatedly been rejected by both the courts and voters.

In 2011 an amendment was proposed in Alaska that would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs, but it never made it to the voters because the state’s lieutenant governor rejected the ballot measure, saying the state does not accept unconstitutional amendments. The amendment’s sponsor, at-large state Rep. Clinton DesJarlais (R), appealed, and on Tuesday the state supreme court ruled in support of the lieutenant governor. “Because DesJarlais’s initiative would prohibit abortion to an extent that the United States Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional, it is ‘clearly unconstitutional’ under controlling authority,” according to the court (via Parents Against Personhood).

The issue may be settled in Alaska, but Iowa legislators haven’t let “personhood” go in their state. Nearly two dozen state senators introduced a joint resolution in late April asking that “[t]he inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected” by amending the state constitution. The resolution would need full support of the house and senate before heading to the voters for ratification.

Iowa’s “personhood” bill was filed just days after Dan Becker, national field director of Personhood USA, spoke at an anti-abortion rally at the state capital. Although much of his speech revolved around the state’s need to eliminate all Medicaid funding for abortions, even in cases of rape, fetal anomaly, or woman’s health, Becker urged attendees to remember, “The right to life is paramount. Without the right to life, all other rights are moot.” According to the FAMiLY Leader, an anti-choice religious right advocacy group in Iowa, Becker had met with the bill’s sponsors the week before the event to assist them with language for their version of a “Human Life Amendment.”

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Should the amendment ever make it out of the legislature and up for a vote, the question is whether the Iowa supreme court would find it as unconstitutional as the Alaska court does. If so, the state’s social conservatives will no doubt consider it to be another act of judicial overreach tearing the moral fabric of our society apart.

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