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House Panel Advances Bill To Increase Fetal Homicide Penalties, Define Personhood

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John Pemble / IPR file
Supporters say the bill would treat the killing of a fetus without the consent of the woman as a form of homicide. But opponents fear if could lead to a ban on abortion because of how an unborn person would be defined.

The criminal penalties for Iowans convicted of intentionally or accidentally ending a pregnancy without the consent of the mother would be increased under a bill advanced Monday by Republicans on a House panel.

Iowa Catholic Conference lobbyist Tom Chapman supports the bill. He said Iowa should treat the killing of a fetus without the consent of the woman as a form of homicide.

“It protects unborn human life in the criminal code in contexts other than abortion or medical procedures,” Chapman said. “So it deems an unborn baby to actually be a person when offenders attack or otherwise harm a pregnant woman.”

The bill would also change language in the criminal code about terminating a human pregnancy to instead refer to “the death of an unborn person.” It then defines “unborn person” as a human “from fertilization to live birth.”

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jamie Burch Elliott opposes the bill. She said it could lead to banning abortion.

“It sends Iowa down a dangerous path when you define a fertilized egg as a person,” Burch Elliott said. “These changes could have unintended far-reaching consequences including outlawing certain forms of birth control, outlawing in vitro fertilization.”

Some supporters of the bill said it does not apply to abortion or other medical procedures because it exempts actions by the mother.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed this bill last year, and a House subcommittee advanced it. But the full House Judiciary Committee did not consider it ahead of a legislative deadline in April 2019.

Some Democrats supported the legislation last year when it simply increased penalties for killing a fetus without the consent of the mother. But Senate Republicans amended it to include the unborn person language and definition, which led to Democratic opposition to the bill.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter