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‘Personhood’ bill passes Iowa House subcommittee
A bill requiring Iowa to protect all life “from the moment of conception,” and removing all judicial oversight and interpretation, was passed Monday by Republicans on an Iowa House subcommittee.
The proposal, which stands little chance of garnering the support of Senate Democrats, is contained in House File 153 and extends all rights and protections currently provided to people functioning outside of a woman’s womb to a fertilized egg in a woman’s Fallopian tubes. It has 29 sponsors — all of them Republican members of the House — and will likely be elevated to to a House floor vote by Republican members of the Committee on Human Resources.
For many social conservatives, the bill has become little more than a test of purity on life issues. A different bill, House File 5, seeks to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the state “except in the case of a medical emergency.” While that bill was specifically written in an effort to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a medical facility in the state, many social conservatives shunned it because it did not specifically prohibit all abortions, regardless of circumstance.
Although state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) attempted to force a discussion on the ramifications of passing a law that would provide personhood protections to fertilized human eggs, subcommittee chairman David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant) and member Kim Pearson (R-Pleasant Hill) brushed off such questions as attempts to muddy the purpose of the bill.
“I’m deeply concerned about the impact of HF 153 on the health and safety of Iowa families,” Wessel-Kroeschell told The Iowa Independent. “In no situation should a family be forced to choose between saving a mother’s life or having her charged with murder.
“While I understand everyone has strong feelings about pregnancy, the bill is full of unintended consequences. It would ban contraception and limit options for families who struggle to get pregnant.”
Other states that have considered “egg-as-person” bills have discovered that such legislation often places medical professionals in situations where one life must be weighed against another. For instance, in 1987 a 27-year-old cancer patient died when doctors at George Washington University Medical Center put the young woman through a Caesarean procedure for the sole purpose of avoiding potential medical liability associated with death of the fetus. The child, severely premature, lived for only two hours, and the young woman died as well. The woman’s parents sued the hospital and entered into an undisclosed out-of-court settlement, but not before the courts had weighed in on the issue.
“The right of bodily integrity,” said Judge A. Perry, “is not extinguished simply because someone is ill, or even at death’s door.” The law, according to the court, upholds a pregnant woman’s right to determine her own health care.
In essence, women who become pregnant would lose their right to medical privacy and would be stripped of decision-making authority as to their own health care and personal wishes if the Iowa bill, or any number of the “personhood” bills, become law.
For instance, Jessica Tebow, a California freelance writer, and her husband had their apartment surrounded by police in 2009 after they decided to cremate the remains of their first pregnancy, which ended in an early miscarriage.
“I can’t help but feel that we would have been better off ignoring our grief, burying our loss, hiding it from the world and suffering silently — simply flushing everything down the toilet to avoid the shame cast on us for trying to find a way to mourn and grieve in the open,” Tebow said following the incident.
Although the California incident was largely a result of miscommunication, laws like the one proposed in House File 153 could elevate any miscarriage to a criminal investigation conducted by law enforcement. There are also concerns, voiced by Wessel-Kroeschell during the subcommittee hearing, that by providing “person” rights to a fertilized egg, embryo and/or fetus, that the state has set pregnancy standards by which women must operate. For instance, could a pregnant woman be charged with endangerment for exposing her embryo to alcohol or cigarette smoke? Under such laws, would the state have an interest or mandate to prosecute women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirth?
While supporters of such laws hope to paint such possible ramifications as far-fetched or absurd, the fact remains that at least 100 women throughout the nation have been arrested and charged under such “personhood” claims. In Feb. 2009, for instance, a South Carolina woman was charged with homicide by child abuse following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Although she survived the plunge from a fifth-floor window, the child she carried was stillborn as a result of the incident.
“I don’t want to make light of this person’s tragic situation, but I truly wonder if the state would take the same position … if she had elected to claim the viable fetus on her income tax return for the previous year,” said Raunch Wise, an attorney who has represented four women who faced such a charge.
In Iowa, women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirth are not provided death certificates. From a purely legal standpoint, the current position of the state is that a person does not exist until and if a living child emerges from the mother. Stillborn children, even those who have surpassed their estimated due-date, are not eligible for listing on any state or federal tax return and, basically, are not considered to have existed as individual persons.
“There are consequences to the laws we create,” argued Wessel-Kroeschell during the subcommittee meeting.
Such ramifications in the case of this proposed law could have far-reaching consequences. For instance, would the language contained in the bill have the end result of outlawing forms of birth control that create an unwelcome environment in a woman’s uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg? If so, then birth control pills, morning after pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), among others, could be deemed illegal.
While the proposed law could have immediate impacts to doctors who perform and couples who undergo in vitro fertilization, there is no mention of excluding the medical practice from the “personhood” bill. Effectively, every fertilized egg created in a lab would have all the rights and protections afford to the general population, making their disposal, adoption and optional use even more complicated and possibly unlawful.