Iowa Bill Defines Human Life at Conception, Bans Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 15, 2011   |   1:26PM   |   Des Moines, IA

A three member Iowa state House subcommittee approved a pro-life bill on Monday that would define human life beginning at conception. The bill, which purports to ban all abortions, likely won’t make it out of the state legislature.

The measure is an effort to go against the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed virtually unlimited abortions throughout pregnancy for any reason. The Supreme Court has affirmed the ruling and is currently split at least 5-4 in favor of continuing abortion on demand. It has also allowed states like Missouri to define human life beginning at conception, but said those laws can’t be used to prohibit abortions.

Because of that, the Iowa bill would likely be declared unconstitutional and court and would never go into effect — even if the state legislature approves the bill. But the bill may not likely get out of the state House.

Rep. Kim Pearson and Rep. David Heaton, both Republicans, sponsored House File 153 and both voted for it during the subcommittee consideration. According to the Des Moines register, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat, voted against it and it passed 2-1.

“Life is sacred and worthy of protection … I believe that abortion is murder,” Pearson said of her bill.

The legislation declares human  “life is valued and protected” beginning at conception and is given the same rights and protections as people after birth under the laws and state constitution of Iowa. The bill bans abortions but does not declare any penalties for an abortion practitioner doing one.

The Register indicates the bill now heads to the House Human Resources Committee, where Family Leader lobbyist Danny Carroll says it has a good chance of passing. He also says the bill is likely to make it out of the state House, but its prospects in the Democrat- controlled state Senate are more uncertain.

Ironically, Pearson and Rep. Glen Massie, who supports Pearson’s bill, have both blocked another measure pro-life advocates are promoting that would be more likely to get through the legislature and more likely to be upheld in court. The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the scientific evidence that unborn children feel intense pain.

Earlier this month, a state House subcommittee approved the bill after a nearly hour-long hearing.  Representative Mark Brandenberg, a Republican from Council Bluffs, talked in support of the measure, which came about in part because of Omaha, Nebraska-based late-term abortion practitioner Leroy Carhart. Nebraska lawmakers approved a similar bill and Carhart started looking at Iowa as a potential place to relocate his abortion business.

“I believe that there’s overwhelming support in Council Bluffs for this bill…because of Dr. Carhart,” Brandenberg says, “and so I support the bill.”

Radio Iowa indicated Norm Pawlewski of Iowa Right to Life agreed that Carhart’s potential relocation to Iowa makes passing the bill a priority.

“We’re talking not about six, or seven, or 10, or 20, we’re talking about hundreds (of late-term abortions) and that’s what we have a concern for,” Pawlewski told legislators. “We need to relieve the people of Council Bluffs from having this blemish on their community.”

During the hearing, Kyle Carlson, legal director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, opposed the bill. But, the concern for pro-life advocate supporting the abortion-fetal pain measure are the “pro-life” lawmakers in the full committee who are opposing the bill.

When Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley and a board member of Iowa Right to Life who is the sponsor of the bill, introduced House File 5, the expectation was that abortion advocates would kill the legislation after the House sent the bill to the state Senate. But the Iowa Republican blog indicates supportive lawmakers don’t have the necessary votes to get the measure out of the Human Resources committee.

With 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats on the panel, the legislation was expected to be reported to the House floor following a committee hearing, but two Republican legislators on the panel, Pearson and Massie, are opposed to the bill. They say they want to see a full ban on abortions — even though such legislation would not be approved by the legislature and would certainly be overturned in court, failing to save the lives of any unborn children.

Pawlewski told the IR blog about the problems early last month.

“If we could have gotten solid support from Pearson and Massie, we could probably have the bill out of subcommittee this week and on the floor next week.  Right now, without one of their votes, the bill is dead in the Human Resources committee,” he said.

Commenting on his bill, Windschitl said it is important to at least protect unborn children late in pregnancy.

“This bill goes beyond the stem of viability. We’re not talking about viability in this bill. We’re talking about fetal pain,” he said, according to the Des Moines Register. “We’re talking about dismembering a child in the womb. If that child can feel pain, is it not the states’s right, and do we not have a responsibility to protect that child?”

“We don’t want Iowa to become the late-term-abortion capital of the United States,” Windschitl said previously about his bill. “It will be similar to Nebraska’s law. I’m still deciding on what is the best piece of legislation possible that will hold up in the courts. I’m taking on the fight of Dr. LeRoy Carhart to keep him out of my state.”

Gov.-elect Terry Branstad has already indicated he would sign the legislation.