DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa state Senate approved a bill that would define an “unborn person” in state law as part of a measure that increases penalties for ending a woman’s pregnancy without her consent.
The bill passed the Senate Tuesday on a 31-18 vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The bill is now eligible for consideration in the Iowa House, where its future is unclear.
“Finally, we have a bill that recognizes the dignity and the rights of that human child in the womb, the same as the human life that’s carrying that child,” said Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, who managed the bill’s passage.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen called the bill “extreme and unconstitutional” and said, if it becomes law, it would endanger common birth control procedures, including IUDs, and could prevent Iowans from using in vitro fertilization.
It could also open the door for criminal investigations of women who suffer a miscarriage, Petersen said.
The debate over the definition of “unborn person” came during a Senate discussion of a measure that would increase penalties for ending a woman’s pregnancy without her consent, for example, by killing or injuring the woman in a car crash or while committing a felony and ending her pregnancy in the process.
Chapman amended the bill to remove the phrase “terminates a human pregnancy” and replaces it with “causes the death of an unborn person” in several sections of the bill.
The measure defines “unborn person” to mean “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”
Chapman said the measure would only strengthen penalties that exist in current law and is unrelated to abortion since it deals with pregnancies ended without the pregnant woman’s consent.
If someone “causes the death of an unborn person” without the consent of the pregnant woman while committing a felony, that person could receive a sentence of life in prison without parole under the bill. The bill carries lesser penalties if an “unborn person” is killed under other circumstances.
Although the bill was one of a trio of measures that had subcommittee hearings on a day when anti-abortion activists rallied at the Capitol, it drew less attention than abortion opponents’ other priorities. Lobbyists for Planned Parenthood had not taken a position on the bill prior to the Senate debate.
Petersen said the original bill passed out of a committee hearing with Democratic support. She criticized what she called the “bait and switch” of amending the bill to add language defining an unborn person.