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‘Personhood’ Legislation Dealt Another Blow, This Time in Iowa

Teddy Wilson

An Iowa state lawmaker's bill to define life as beginning at fertilization failed to meet a legislative deadline Friday, joining so-called personhood bills in at least nine other states introduced without success this year.

An Iowa state lawmaker’s bill to define life as beginning at fertilization failed to meet a legislative deadline Friday, joining so-called personhood bills in at least nine other states introduced without success this year.

Personhood legislation, which would criminalize abortion and ban many forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant women, has thus far failed to become law in places where anti-choice activists have pushed for the radical anti-choice policy.

Personhood proposals have been soundly defeated either by state lawmakers or by voters at the ballot, even in deep-red states such as North Dakota and Mississippi.

Iowa’s SF 417 was introduced Thursday by state Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City). The bill would define a “person” as an “individual living human being without regard to age of development from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.”

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The bill includes exceptions for medical treatments that result in “accidental or unintentional injury or death,” including contraception administered “before a clinically diagnosable pregnancy.”

“Virtually no one would hem and haw and make excuses while they watched a child drown in the middle of a lake,” Bertrand said in an email to anti-choice Iowa Pro-Life Action members, according to reporting by the Iowa Statesman.

“But when it comes to fighting to end the travesty of abortion in this country—or even here in Iowait seems all you and I get from many politicians is a list of excuses. Well, I don’t know about you, but I believe it’s high time for the excuses to come to an end,” Bertrand wrote.

Bertrand also co-sponsored a proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution in 2013 that would have recognized and protected “the inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development.”

SF 417 was referred to the state Senate Judiciary Committee, but was not passed out of committee before the Friday deadline to be considered for a floor vote.

Personhood legislation has been introduced in Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. Almost none of the bills have garnered any legislative traction, and most state legislatures have not taken any action on the bills besides referring them to committees.

Repeated defeats of “personhood” measures have not seemed to dissuade the most extreme anti-choice legislators.

Lawmakers in two states in which bills and ballot measures have failed by wide margins have once again introducing “personhood” legislation. A “personhood” bill was introduced in Mississippi, but it has since died in committee. Lawmakers in the Colorado house introduced a “personhood” bill, which has been postponed indefinitely by the judiciary committee.

The Colorado bill is nearly identical to a bill that died in legislative committees controlled by Democrats last year.

Only in Montana has personhood legislation gained any support. HB 425, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Monforton, (R-Bozeman), would place a measure on the ballot for voters to determine if an amendment should be added to the state constitution that would define life as beginning at conception.

Annie Bukacek, president of the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, said that the amendment is “designed to stop the killing and not regulate the killing,” reported the Montana Standard.

The bill was passed by the state House Judiciary Committee by a 11-10 vote along party lines, with one Republican joining the nine Democrats voting against the legislation. It is awaiting a vote on the house floor, where it would need the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.

Montana Republicans have a 59-41 majority in the house and 29-21 majority in the senate. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Montana legislature twice before. Both times it failed to pass.

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