Iowa House OKs bill to criminalize death of an “unborn person” despite IVF concerns

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Republicans in Iowa’s House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would criminalize the death of an “unborn person” — over Democrats’ concerns about how it might apply to in vitro fertilization, after an Alabama court found frozen embryos can be considered children.

Iowa’s law currently outlines penalties for termination or serious injury to a “human pregnancy,” but the proposed bill would amend the language to pertain to “causing of death of, or serious injury to, an unborn person,” defined as “an individual organism … from fertilization to live birth.”

It’s one of many bills being considered by state Legislatures around the country that would expand legal and constitutional protections for embryos and fetuses, a long-time goal of the anti-abortion movement.

The bill still would need to pass the state Senate and be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds to become law.

Referencing Alabama’s case, a Democrat in Iowa’s House proposed, but ultimately withdrew, an amendment to explicitly carve out protections for IVF, a procedure that helps some women become pregnant.

“This bill right here … puts IVF at risk whether you want to believe it or not,” said Iowa Democrat Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell. “We are now seeing the damage these laws can have on people seeking and providing reproductive health care.”

The majority ruling of Alabama’s Supreme Court treats an embryo the same as a child or gestating fetus under the state’s wrongful death law, explicitly stating “unborn children are ‘children.’” That led three major providers of IVF in Alabama to pause services because of concerns about liabilities.

Iowa Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler said the bill is far more simple and that Democratic lawmakers are “trying to turn this into a conversation that it is not.”

The Alabama case, Wheeler said, pertains to that state’s laws and courts, not Iowa’s, and elected officials there have already moved to clarify that IVF providers are protected from liability related to the destruction of or damage to an embryo.

Wessel-Kroeschell said that exception is not well-defined in Iowa’s law, nor is it clear how Iowa or federal courts might interpret the new language, which she said enshrines “the myth of fetal personhood in our state code.”

“We simply cannot know how far this reasoning will be taken,” she said.

Earlier in the afternoon, House Republicans withdrew a bill that would require a father to pay child support starting at fertilization after Democrats pressed on the potential implications, including the possibility of a court order for risky paternity testing of a fetus.

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