Iowa lawmakers push ahead on abortion bills despite rulings

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Undeterred by multiple court rulings that have turned back efforts to limit abortion in the past year, some conservative Iowa lawmakers are moving forward with the ultimate in abortion control measures, a bill that would declare life begins at conception.

It would place Iowa once again at the head of the pack of states attempting to ban all abortions and makes clear that abortion-rights opponents are committed to such a course regardless of the likelihood of future court defeats.

"Let me be very clear to everyone in this room," said Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker who led a subcommittee Thursday that moved the bill banning abortions to a full Senate committee. "We're not going to stop. We will continue to fight for life."

The bill declares a person is an individual living human being from the moment of conception until natural death. It affords such a person all rights and protections accorded in state and federal constitutions.

Democratic Sen. Janet Petersen called the bill "another extreme and dangerous bill harmful to the health of women around our state."

She said she's concerned it has no exceptions for rape, incest or for child sexual abuse. She said the language could be used to control certain types of birth control, could make it difficult for women to get some types of treatment for cancer that might endanger a fetus and force women to undergo a criminal investigation if they have a miscarriage or stillbirth.

"To have government intervene and potentially investigate what has gone horribly wrong with a woman's body, it just disgusts me," she said.

The bill isn't the only abortion measure moving forward in the Republican-majority Legislature with support from Gov. Kim Reynolds.

More than half of the Iowa Senate signed on to a constitutional amendment that declares there's no right to an abortion in the Iowa Constitution. The bill, which has no Democratic signers, is aimed at weakening the state court system's power to review abortion restrictions.

It was introduced in January just days after an Iowa judge overturned what would have been the nation's broadest abortion limit — a bill that banned abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The judge concluded the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed in a June 2018 ruling that women have a fundamental right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution and the heartbeat law violated that precedent. In that ruling last year, the court struck down another of the legislature's attempts at limiting abortion by forcing women to wait 72 hours before getting the procedure. The court concluded women have a fundamental state constitutional right to control their own bodies and health care decisions, including abortion.

The proposed constitutional amendment moved out of a Senate subcommittee on Feb. 6 and must pass this legislative session and another before it goes to a statewide vote.

Voters in Alabama and West Virginia passed similar constitutional amendments in November. Tennessee passed one in 2014.

Two other abortion-related bills also are eligible for committee consideration after passing subcommittees last week. One would elevate the prison sentence to life for anyone convicted of intentionally terminating a human pregnancy, taking an action they reasonably should have known would terminate the pregnancy, or terminating a pregnancy in the commission of a felony. It also increases penalties if a drunken driver causes termination of a pregnancy.

Another would deny federal funds administered by the state for sex education programs conducted by any organization that performs abortions or regularly refers people to an entity that performs abortions.

Iowa also is among at least four states where Republican lawmakers are trying to lessen the role of attorneys on state judicial nominating panels, and although legislative leaders deny their effort is related to abortion or gay marriage rulings, critics say it's a way to stack the courts with more conservative judges.

Legislative leaders say it's about giving Iowans more control of judge selection through their elected representatives. Instead of attorneys choosing half of the members of the judicial selection commission, legislative leaders in the House and Senate would make the picks.

"Make no mistake this is a power grab by Republican politicians who want complete control of state government, including the judicial branch," said Democratic Rep. Mary Wolfe, an attorney.

Reynolds has insisted it isn't related to abortion and isn't politically motivated. However, at a state Capitol rally Thursday she made it clear she believes the courts are wrong to strike down the abortion laws.

"We are appointing judges to the bench that will apply the law and adhere to the constitution of Iowa and the constitution of the United States, not inject their own philosophy," she shouted to rousing applause.

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