"Personhood" in trouble as Iowa legislative deadline approaches

One of the anti-abortion community’s top legislative priorities, a bill declaring that life begins at conception, appears likely to perish in this week’s “funnel.” Social conservatives introduced companion “personhood” bills in the Iowa House and Senate two weeks ago. Under legislative rules, all non-appropriations bills must pass at least one committee in one chamber by March 3 in order to remain eligible for consideration this year.

However, House File 297 has not even been assigned to a House Human Resources subcommittee, and Senate File 253 appears not to have the votes to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, top Republicans in the House and Senate were noticeably absent from the list of personhood co-sponsors. In the lower chamber, the bill was referred to Human Resources, where committee chair Joel Fry was not a co-sponsor, even though he had backed similar legislation in 2011 and 2013. Committee leaders have the power to bury bills quietly. By not assigning House File 297 to a subcommittee, Fry has guaranteed that it will not come up for a vote in the full committee by this Friday.

In the Senate, the bill declaring that life begins at conception was referred to the Judiciary Committee, led by Brad Zaun. He’s one of the 20 Republican co-sponsors, joined by independent Senator David Johnson. I wondered whether something was up last week, when Zaun assigned the bill to a new subcommittee including himself. On February 25, he told a large audience in Urbandale that he hadn’t studied the personhood issue (even though his name was on the bill, and he’s co-sponsored similar legislation before).

Zaun showed his hand at a crowded February 27 subcommittee hearing on Senate File 253. He and State Senator Jason Schultz voted to move the bill forward, ignoring testimony suggesting it would not stand up in court. Republicans aware well aware of that reality, which is why section 2 of the bill states, “The Iowa Supreme Court shall not have appellate jurisdiction over the provisions of this Act.”

As the Judiciary Committee chair, Zaun could bring up personhood before Friday. None of the five Democrats serving on Senate Judiciary would support Senate File 253, which means that supporters can afford to lose only one of the eight Republican votes to get the bill out of committee.

Four of the Republicans on Judiciary (Dan Dawson, Julian Garrett, Tom Shipley, and Charles Schneider) are not among the personhood co-sponsors. A fifth Republican on that committee, Amy Sinclair, did sign on as a co-sponsor but may be wavering; she was the original subcommittee chair on the legislation before Zaun formed a new panel last week.

The FAMiLY Leader group, a leading voice for Iowa social conservatives, sent out this e-mail blast today:

ACTION ALERT: Your one email TODAY could save babies’ lives!

Dear Friend of the Family,

We don’t have much time. And neither do the over 3,000 babies who are likely to be killed by abortion in Iowa next year. We need you to take action TODAY.

Click here to send one, simple email that could make all the difference!

Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver
Senate File 253 would establish in Iowa law that life begins at conception, the first step in defending every precious mother and baby from the horrors of abortion.

But the fate of SF253 may very well lie in the hands of one man today, Senate President Jack Whitver. The duties and powers of his office enable him to move SF253 to a committee that can pass it before the “funnel” deadline of this Friday, after which it may be too late for SF253 to advance this year.

Would you please send Sen. Whitver an email today, encouraging him to advance SF253?

Click here for a simple tool that makes sending your email quick and easy!

THANK YOU for taking action today. This may be our best chance in 40 years, since Roe v. Wade, to defend the lives of unborn babies. If not now … when? If not you … who?

For the Family,

Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO, The FAMiLY LEADER

P.S. – To do even more, including contacting your legislators as well, donating, signing the petition, watching the new viral “She’s a Baby” video, and more, visit ShesABaby.com today!

Fortunately for Iowans who care about women’s rights (but unfortunately for anti-abortion activists), Whitver isn’t co-sponsoring personhood. Neither is Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix. I doubt Whitver will be swayed by a bunch of pleading e-mails.

GOP Senator Jake Chapman is rumored to be circulating a discharge petition seeking to bring personhood to the Senate floor if the bill dies in the funnel. (I’m seeking confirmation and will update this post as needed.) Chapman would likely have trouble obtaining 26 signatures.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Please let me know of any communication from Republican senators indicating whether they would support a bill declaring life begins at conception. The following nine Republicans didn’t co-sponsor Senate File 253: Dix, Whitver, Schneider, Shipley, Garrett, Dawson, Waylon Brown, Tim Kapucian, and Dan Zumbach. Brown told Laura Hubka at a recent legislative forum that he won’t vote for personhood because he and his wife have stored frozen embryos.

UPDATE: Senate File 253 is on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda for March 2, which suggests Republicans may have found enough votes to bring it out of committee.

The Senate majority leader has the final say on which bills come to the floor, so even if personhood passes Zaun’s committee, Dix will not be obliged to call it up for a vote in the full Senate. I’m very interested to know what constituents hear back from Dix or Whitver about this bill.

MARCH 2 UPDATE: The personhood bill was removed from the agenda of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. Zaun told Steffi Lee of CBS-2 News in Cedar Rapids that he was disappointed not to have enough votes from Republican senators to pass the bill.

Senate File 53, a 20-week abortion ban, is still alive. This bill seems much more likely to reach Governor Terry Branstad’s desk, since it is similar to legislation the Republican-controlled Iowa House approved in 2011.

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