Iowa House rejects attempt to vote on "personhood" bill

Although no pro-choice Republicans currently serve in the Iowa legislature, an Iowa House vote yesterday demonstrated that the Republican Party is divided on how far to pursue anti-abortion policies. More than half the House Republican caucus, including the entire leadership team, rejected State Representative Kim Pearson’s attempt to force a vote on a “personhood” bill giving fetuses the full rights of U.S. citizens.

This vote will anger some conservative activists who oppose abortion rights and may become an issue in various Republican primaries next year. More background and details are after the jump.  

During the first three decades after the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade ruling, quite a few pro-choice Republicans served in the Iowa House and Senate, mostly representing suburban districts. Over time, the number of Republicans supporting abortion rights dwindled as conservatives replaced retiring members. Since State Representative Libby Jacobs chose not to run for re-election in 2008, the Iowa House Republican caucus has had no pro-choice members.

More than a dozen anti-abortion planks are in the first section of the Iowa GOP platform. Among other things, the platform asserts that life begins at conception and demands 14th-amendment protections for “unborn children.”

Not surprisingly, when Republicans regained control of the Iowa House, many in the caucus wanted to move what is commonly known as a “personhood bill.” House File 153 had 28 co-sponsors, all Republicans, when it was introduced in January. The short bill stipulates:

Section 1. NEW SECTION. 1.19 Rights and protections beginning at conception.

The sovereign state of Iowa recognizes that life is valued and protected from the moment of conception, and each life, from that moment, is accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and the laws of this state. The Iowa supreme court shall not have appellate jurisdiction over the provisions of this section.

Sec. 2. EFFECTIVE UPON ENACTMENT. This act, being deemed of immediate importance, takes effect upon enactment.

The personhood bill shouldn’t be controversial within the Republican caucus, because it’s consistent with the Iowa GOP platform. However, House leaders would have good reason to avoid a debate on this bill. It violates the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade ruling, despite language seeking to prevent judicial review within the state of Iowa. It would probably be deeply unpopular, because not only would it ban all abortions regardless of the mother’s circumstances, it would make certain forms of birth control illegal. The “morning after” pill and intra-uterine devices work by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, and ordinary birth control pills can have the same effect.

House File 153 did not make it through the legislature’s “funnel” deadline earlier this session. Presumably leaders wanted to avoid pushing a bill that could be portrayed as extreme. The most outspoken advocates for the personhood bill didn’t help their cause when they blocked a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation from getting out of the House Human Resources Committee. Leaders had to reassign the late-term abortion ban to the Government Oversight Committee to get it through this year. When it came up on the House floor, Pearson and two other first-term House Republicans, Tom Shaw and Glen Massie, voted against it.

Pearson and her allies were unable to get the personhood language attached to another bill scheduled for floor debate. Yesterday, Pearson offered a motion to suspend House rules to bring House File 656 to the floor. That legislation related to “reporting of waivers granted from abortion notification requirements for pregnant minors.” The idea was to offer an amendment replacing the text of House File 656 with the personhood language. The presiding officer couldn’t rule such an amendment out of order, because it would be germane to the subject of the bill.

Republican leaders wanted to avoid putting all state representatives on record voting for or against the personhood language. So, Pearson’s motion to suspend the rules went down by a 72 to 25 vote. The Iowa House Journal for May 11 (pdf) shows the roll call. Here are the 24 Republicans who joined Democrat Dan Muhlbauer (district 51) in voting to suspend the rules to consider House File 656:

Dwayne Alons (district 4)

Richard Anderson (district 97)

Mark Brandenburg (district 100)

Royd Chambers (district 5)

Betty De Boef (district 76)

Cecil Dolecheck (district 96)

Joel Fry (district 95)

Pat Grassley (district 17)

Chris Hagenow (district 59)

Bob Hager (district 16)

Ron Jorgensen (district 54)

Jared Klein (district 89)

Kevin Koester (district 70)

Rep. Brian Moore (district 25)

Rep. Glen Massie (district 74)

Kim Pearson (district 42)

Dawn Pettengill (district 39)

Walt Rogers (district 20)

Jason Schultz (district 55)

Tom Shaw (district 8)

Jeff Smith (district 6)

Chuck Soderberg (district 3)

Annette Sweeney (district 44)

Jeremy Taylor (district 1)

These 33 Republicans voted with the other 39 House Democrats against suspending the rules (I’ve noted members of the leadership team):

Rich Arnold (district 72)

Chip Baltimore (district 48)

Clel Baudler (district 58)

Josh Byrnes (district 14)

Peter Cownie (district 60)

Dave Deyoe (district 10) *assistant majority leader

Jack Drake (district 57)

Greg Forristall (district 98)

Julian Garrett (district 73)

Mary Ann Hanusa (district 99)

Dave Heaton (district 91)

Lee Hein (district 31)

Erik Helland (district 69) *majority whip

Lance Horbach (district 40)

Stewart Iverson (district 9)

Jeff Kaufmann (district 79) *speaker pro tem

Mark Lofgren (district 80)

Steven Lukan (district 32) *assistant majority leader

Linda Miller (district 82)

Steven Olson (district 83)

Kraig Paulsen (district 35) *speaker

Ross Paustian (district 84)

Scott Raecker (district 63)

Dan Rasmussen (district 23)

Henry Rayhons (district 11)

Thomas Sands (district 87)

Dave Tjepkes (district 50)

Linda Upmeyer (district 12) *majority leader

Jim Van Engelenhoven (district 71)

Guy Vander Linden (district 75)

Nick Wagner (district 36)

Matt Windschitl (district 56) *assistant majority leader

Gary Worthan (district 52)

I was fascinated to see that nine Republicans who co-sponsored House File 153 voted against Pearson’s effort to force a vote on this issue: Rasmussen, Rayhons, Iverson, Helland, Hanusa, Windschitl, Van Engelenhoven, Anderson and Drake. Talk about “being for the bill before you were against it”!

Three Republicans missed the vote on Pearson’s motion: Dan Huseman (district 53), Ralph Watts (district 47) and Renee Schulte (district 37). Huseman was absent for all of the House floor business yesterday; he is recovering from recent surgery. The House Journal shows that Watts missed quite a few votes too. From my reading of the House Journal for May 11, the roll call on Pearson’s motion was the only vote Schulte missed. Conservative talk radio host Steve Deace noted on his blog that Schulte

was present all day up until the vote took place, and then was seen literally running out of the chamber prior to the vote taking place. Schulte is the wife of a pastor who little birdies tell me opposes life at conception during Republican caucus meetings. Let’s hope it wasn’t a family emergency.

For what it’s worth, Huseman and Watts co-sponsored the personhood bill when it was introduced in January. Schulte was not among the 28 co-sponsors. She is one of four assistant House majority leaders.

John Deeth noticed that some Republicans thrown together by redistricting voted differently on Pearson’s motion yesterday. They included Shaw and Tjepkes, who both live in the new House district 10, Brandenburg and Hanusa, who both live in the new district 16, and Moore and Hein, who both live in the new district 58. If these representatives end up in competitive primaries, I would expect Shaw, Brandenburg and Moore to use this issue against Tjepkes, Hanusa and Hein.

Deace slammed the Republicans who “put partisanship or the political process before the principle of the inalienable right to life” and wonders whether anti-abortion advocacy organizations will ignore yesterday’s vote or “cover for” the Republicans who sank Pearson’s motion. I assume these groups will endorse all House Republican candidates who call themselves “pro-life,” whether or not they sought a vote on personhood.

Some activists won’t accept Paulsen’s excuse that House Republicans still believe life begins at conception but opposed Pearson’s motion because they want to use the traditional legislative process. Unless those conservatives talk about staying home or vote for third-party candidates in 2012, Republicans leaders won’t take their concerns seriously.

Pearson hasn’t ruled out trying to bring this issue to the floor again before the Iowa House adjourns for the year.

“I actually thought we’d have a little bit more,” Pearson told reporters after the vote. “But I’m encouraged by that many that were willing to step up and say, ‘You know what? We need to have an open and honest debate about life at conception. Do we value life or (not)? Do we really want to change this culture of death to a culture of life or not?'” […]

“Is this a principle that the  Republicans want to stand up for or not?” Pearson asked. “…The issue never goes away. For 38 years we’ve been killing babies and until we rectify that, it’ll still be an issue.”

Pearson’s proposal would have provided one exception to an outright abortion ban, allowing abortions to save the life of the mother. Pearson and like-minded legislators may make other attempts yet this year to force a debate on legislation to ban nearly all abortions in Iowa.

“This is an act of faith,” Pearson said. “This is what we’re supposed to be doing and so we step out and do it and see what happens.”

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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  • Brian Moore

    Wasn’t Moore consistently painting himself as a moderate during the campaign and initially planned to run as a Democrat for a Senate seat?  I may have my information wrong.  

     I wonder if he’ll catch any flack back home for this vote.  I remember people saying he was a good guy who was thoughtful in his policy positions.  

    • hard to see him or Hein

      holding the new House district 58 (Jackson County, most of Jones, little of Dubuque) in a presidential election year. The Democratic voter registration advantage in that district is about 4,000.

      • Jones County

        Most of the Jones population – Anamosa and Monticello – is in new 96 which has no incumbent and is more GOP friendly. But Moore and Hein both live on farms, which tends to hinder one’s mobility substantially.

    • a single vote disproof?

      Can someone not be considered moderate or thoughtful if he holds strong positions on some issues?

      • Apology to Moore

        You’re correct, I just assumed that if Moore was going to take the moderate stance on the issue he would have gone along with the other 30 plus Republicans as opposed to signing on to a bill that will get nowhere, be struck down by the courts and cause further heartache amongst those who already have to make a life and death decision.  

      • haven't seen Moore

        taking any noticeably “moderate” positions on other major bills considered this year. Has he voted contrary to the majority of the Republican House caucus on anything important?

        • I don't know.

          I know nothing about Moore, I just thought it was a hasty conclusion to jump to based on one vote.

          • I've read a lot of House journals this year

            and what’s striking to me is how rarely anyone in the Republican caucus dissents on a vote, whether it’s related to an amendment or an overall bill passing. There used to be a lot more ideological diversity among Republicans in the Iowa legislature. I grew up with GOP representatives like Janet Metcalf and Gene Maddox, who would vote with Democrats on some issues.

            It’s news now when the Republican caucus is split on a high-profile vote, like Pearson’s procedural motion on Tuesday.