GOP lawmakers in Senate approve ‘personhood’ bill

February 27, 2017 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa could effectively ban abortions under a GOP bill approved Monday that would declare life at conception, though it’s unclear if the measure carries the necessary support to pass the Senate.

The bill recognizes protections for fertilized eggs, essentially making abortion illegal in Iowa. It does not provide exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Supporters said the bill would not prohibit the use of contraception nor criminalize miscarriages.

The legislation, co-sponsored by 20 Republican senators and one independent, cleared an initial Senate Judiciary subcommittee and will now face the full committee.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, the chair of the subcommittee, allowed several opponents of the bill to speak. Many expressed concern over the bill, which they described as extreme, as well as the danger it could pose to women’s health care.


Daniel Zeno from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said lawmakers are creating a “smoke screen” to ban abortion and questioned whether the legislation could stand up to a court challenge.

“This is an attempt to end all abortions,” he said. “And abortions are legal. Women have the legal right to choose an abortion.”

It’s among several bills seeking to restrict abortions in Iowa.

Other states have considered similar “personhood” measures, though none have been successful. Mississippi, Colorado and North Dakota are among the states to reject it.

Martin Cannon, a lawyer from the pro-life Thomas More Society, defended the legality of the bill to lawmakers on the committee, encouraging them to support it. He called Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide, “an act of lawlessness.”

Rebecca Kiessling, a pro-life activist and attorney, said the bill would be difficult to overturn in court. She pointed to language that specifies if one section of the bill is deemed invalid, it does not impact remaining parts of the bill.

“You’re recognizing personhood on your state constitution and your state laws, which you’re entitled to do,” she told lawmakers. “And also you have the severability clause language that says the rest of the statute would still be upheld. So, I think this is an excellent strategy.”

The bill also seeks to deny the Iowa Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction over the matter, if it does go to court.

Sen. Janet Peterson, the lone Democrat on the subcommittee, said the bill is dangerous to the health of women.

“I understand where your hearts are, but I also believe we have to work on legislation that we believe values the lives of women,” said the Des Moines lawmaker. “I believe this would cause serious damage to health care in Iowa.”