A bill to strengthen penalties in the event of a nonconsensual cause of death and serious injury to an unborn person made it through an Iowa House subcommittee on Monday.
Abortion supporters objected to the bill, mainly because it refers to an unborn baby as an unborn person.
Jamie Burch Elliott of Planned Parenthood spoke against the bill.
“What I see here is that this is putting personhood language into the criminal code,” she said. “This brings abortion into this bill when you insert personhood language here. It lays the groundwork to ban abortion altogether because a fertilized egg has the same legal rights and protections as a person under this law. It’s a troubling attempt to insert this extreme and unpopular language into Iowa law that sends Iowa down a dangerous path when you define a fertilized egg as a person.”
Elliott said there should be legal protections for women who have lost their pregnancy as a result of criminal activity, but she said those protections already exist.
“What this law does is treats a fertilized egg as a person in Iowa code,” she said. “That’s obviously extreme, that’s dangerous and makes this bill suddenly about abortion, whether that’s the intent or not. This bill doesn’t protect Iowa women. It doesn’t protect families. It doesn’t protect anyone’s health or their pregnancy, it just inserts a one-sided and extreme ideology into Iowa code.”
Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference spoke in support of the legislation.
“This is not an abortion bill,” Chapman said. “It completely excludes actions by the pregnant woman from the scope of the legislation. It protects unborn human life in the criminal code. It deems an unborn baby to actually be a person.”
Chapman said Iowa is one of only about a dozen states that does not treat the killing of an unborn child as a form of homicide.
He did say that the penalties are a little out of whack but said other than those concerns, they support the bill.
Daniel Zeno of the ACLU said the group opposes the bill for two reasons. First, it defines personhood to mean from the moment of conception. And second, because of the extreme penalties.
“This takes it from a Class C to a Class A,” he said. “Life in prison without parole.”
Daniel Sunne with The FAMiLY Leader said the group supports the legislation.
“Right now in Iowa, if someone commits a crime and hurts or kills an unborn child, they do not face the penalty they deserve,” Sunne said. “Iowa is in a small minority of only eight states with its current type of language.”
Sunne said the bill would put Iowa in line with 38 other states as well as federal law. He said the bill has nothing to do with abortion.
“Some may complain about the use of the term unborn child, unborn person as we’ve heard already,” he said. “Aside from being the correct term, it’s also consistent with Iowa code. Iowa law uses unborn person or unborn child 35 times across seven different chapters. Thirty states and the federal government use unborn person or unborn child language.”
That list includes all of Iowa’s neighbors.
“It’d be unusual to use any other term,” Sunne said.
Tamara Scott, who was representing the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America, said she wanted to speak on behalf of women and the rights of women who want their babies. She said some couples invest a lot into a pregnancy. Some require IVF to have conception. Some may have a high-risk pregnancy.
“To have that taken from them, that hope is taken from them, if it’s intentional, you can’t find a crime high enough on this,” Scott said. “Not every pregnancy is an unwanted pregnancy. Many are wanted. Many have been planned for. Many have been a large investment through in-vitro or other practices. I think we should do everything we can to protect every Iowan inside the womb and outside the womb.”
Chuck Hurley of The FAMiLY Leader said the organization supports the bill.
“I’m going to try to be charitable here, but I’m having a very difficult time thinking that there could be opposition to criminalizing conduct that kills a desired, wanted child,” he said. “I’ve never been pregnant, but my wife has been pregnant 10 times. And I know that if someone had killed or injured one of our children, in the womb — each of which was very much wanted — I cannot imagine dehumanizing that child. I cannot imagine saying that they should not be treated as precious.”
Hurley had a photo of a Time magazine cover that showed a baby at 18 weeks gestation.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Hurley said. “We do know now, thanks to sonography and pictures, exactly what we’re talking about here. All 10 of my children looked like this at 18 weeks. And to say that this child is not a human and should not be treated that way for criminal purposes is beyond my ability to reason.”
Hurley said that while criminalizing bad behavior toward an unborn child may have ramifications for the abortion argument, this bill does not have anything to do with abortion.
“If we can’t stand up for the humanity of the unborn when they are desperately wanted and when we know that there’s a baby there, then what we’ve chosen to do as lawmakers is to dehumanize wanted children for the purposes of protecting an abortion regime,” Hurley said. “That does not make logical sense. It may make sense in some world of trying to advance the abortion cause, but it doesn’t make sense in the criminal code. I hope we can talk about sensible criminal penalties when the child is wanted without allowing the abortion discussion to drive this in a ditch.”
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) said the bill is “very interesting.” She said the current code on this topic shows much thought and compromise was put into the code.
“There’s not any political compromise going into this bill as far as I can tell and it is extreme if there was ever an extreme bill,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “It does introduce personhood into the Iowa code.”
Wessel-Kroeschell shared concerns about IVF under this proposed legislation.
“I’ve read a lot about IVF and when the news reports come out that there were all those embryos that were destroyed accidentally, I don’t know who the criminal would be in that case, but there would be a criminal according to this bill as far as I can tell,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “This makes the pregnancy much more valuable than a newborn child, or a grandma.
“It saddens me that we have gone so far that we can’t talk and we can’t come together on reasonable language as we currently have in code.”
Wessel-Kroeschell said that, according to the fiscal note, there were no convictions under Iowa code in 2018 regarding instances the bill would address. In the last 10 years, there have only been four.
“So this is not like, some sort of tragedy that we are trying to, something that’s going on all over the place. It’s not something that absolutely needs to be addressed. We are spending our time on something we don’t need to spend our time on. I am sorry that we are doing this.”
Rep. Dustin Hite (R-New Sharon) said after the meeting the bill will be approved through subcommittee, but requires some work.