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Bill Outlawing Abortion Advances in Iowa Legislature (Updated)

Michelle D. Anderson

Iowa Republicans' so-called personhood bill could not be modified to “create or recognize a right to an abortion." Other "personhood" proposals have been rejected via ballot measure across the country.

UPDATE, MARCH 3, 10:29 a.m.: The Iowa GOP’s so-called personhood measure on Thursday failed to clear a legislative procedural deadline after the Senate Judiciary Committee kept the bill off its agenda, the Associated Press reported. The “personhood” bill could be shelved for the remainder of the state’s legislative session.

A “personhood” measure that aims to criminalize abortion care in Iowa could be on its way to the state senate floor.

The bill, SF 253, would give a fetus “the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa,” and the laws of Iowa. A three-person state senate subcommittee on Monday voted to advance the bill.

State Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson, said the bill outlawing abortion care could soon go to the state senate floor, the Des Moines Register reported. Iowa Republicans hold hefty majorities in both legislative chambers after electoral gains in 2016.

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The bill, which seeks to abolish any method “inhibiting the development of a human pregnancy at any stage following conception,” would prohibit the Iowa Supreme Court from having appellate jurisdiction over its provisions, if it becomes the law.

Iowa lawmakers would not be able to modify the law to “to create or recognize a right to an abortion.” Bill language says the law could not be construed to “impose civil or criminal liability on a woman upon whom an abortion is performed, or to prohibit the use of any means of contraception.”

“Personhood” measures, which attempt to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons,” failed as state ballot proposals in Colorado and North Dakota in 2014. And despite widespread opposition nationwide, congressional Republicans this year introduced a federal “personhood” bill.

One of the 21 Republican lawmakers behind the bill, state Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), has proposed other anti-choice measures this year.

Several hundred people, including pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates, gathered at the Iowa capitol for the subcommittee meeting, the Register reported.

Opponents of the so-called personhood bill include state Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines), the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Family Planning Council of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and its political arm, Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa (PPVI).

Erin Davison-Rippey, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a video showing testimony for and against the GOP bill that voters have never approved radical “personhood” ballot measures.

Calling SF 253 “extremely reckless,” Davison-Rippey said the bill “could outlaw abortion” in Iowa, while inadvertently causing people who have miscarriages to face criminal charges such as homicide and manslaughter.

She added that the so-called personhood measure is so extreme that some notable Iowa GOP legislators have opted not to support the bill. Republican leaders in the house and state senate are not among the many co-sponsors of the measure that would outlaw abortion care in Iowa, reported Bleeding Heartland.

SF 253 is among several anti-choice measures pending in Iowa’s GOP-controlled legislature. A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday voted to advance SF 53, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks.

Iowa Republicans have also proposed defunding Planned Parenthood (SF 2) and other clinics providing abortion care. Republicans also want to allow citizens to sue abortion providers for physical injury or emotional distress (SF 26).

Another bill (SF 54) seeks to redefine “murder” by allowing a fetus weighing 350 grams or more to be considered a person under the state’s murder statute. Chelgren is the primary sponsor behind SF 26 and SF 54.

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