Iowa Republican misleads about bill threatening IVF

As the Iowa Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the near-total abortion ban Republicans enacted last year, state House and Senate Republicans are advancing several bills to further their anti-abortion agenda. The latest example is House File 2575, which rewrites the criminal statute on causing a non-consensual pregnancy loss. House members approved the bill on March 7, voting mostly along party lines.

Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler denied during Iowa House debate that what he called a “fetal homicide” bill could jeopardize the legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF). He either doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the legislation he floor managed, or was trying to mislead the public about its potential impact.


Since the first year of Iowa’s GOP trifecta, some Republican lawmakers have tried without success to advance “personhood” legislation, declaring life to begin at conception. House File 2575 accomplishes the same result, under the guise of strengthening existing criminal law.

The bill would amend Iowa Code Chapter 707.8, which addresses non-consensual “termination” or “serious injury to a human pregnancy.” Every reference to terminating a human pregnancy would be replaced with “causes the death of an unborn person.” The bill would define “unborn person” as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”

There are only three exceptions for criminal liability: “an act or omission of the pregnant person” (to prevent someone from being prosecuted after having a legal abortion); death or injury “caused by the performance of an approved medical procedure” by a licensed practitioner; and an act committed in self-defense or defense of another person.

Every major anti-abortion group in Iowa registered in support of the bill within days of its introduction. The Family Planning Council of Iowa and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa were among the groups that quickly registered against it. They warned during the House subcommittee hearing that the measure could affect contraception and other reproductive health care.


During the March 7 floor debate, Democratic State Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell introduced an amendment to clarify that the criminal penalties would not apply to in vitro fertilization or to the “ordering, prescribing, dispensing, administering, or use of hormonal contraceptives.” She noted that “starting and growing a family is a profoundly personal decision.”

Wessel-Kroeschell referenced the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling, which found that state’s wrongful death statute applied to “extrauterine children — that is, unborn children who are located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed.” The decision prompted several fertility clinics in Alabama to halt services, fearing criminal liability.

The Democrat argued her amendment was necessary because “this bill right here, House File 2575, puts IVF at risk, whether you want to believe it or not.”

The bill could be applied to an embryo, Wessel-Kroeschell added, “frozen or not, created in a petri dish, for a couple desperate to grow their family.”

Several minutes later, Democratic State Representative Heather Matson shared her personal experience with IVF when speaking in favor of Wessel-Kroeschell’s amendment. She explained how the process often results in creating more embryos than parents may need. She also connected the dots between the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling and House File 2575.

What a tragedy it would be for all Iowans if what has come to pass in Alabama comes to pass here, because as written, this bill does not explicitly protect IVF, and sets a precedent with new language of “unborn person.” To be clear: this bill is a way to establish fetal personhood. And friends, we all know how precedent works in this world. We must acknowledge what this really means.

As Wessel-Kroeschell gave closing comments on her amendment, she said, “We need to guarantee that IVF and hormonal contraceptions are available to Iowans so they have an opportunity to decide when and how to have a family.”

We’ll never know how many House Republicans would have endorsed such a guarantee, because without explanation, Wessel-Kroeschell withdrew her amendment rather than putting it to a vote in the chamber.


Wheeler urged House members to reject changes to House File 2575, claiming that ever since the subcommittee on the bill, Wessel-Kroeschell “has been trying to turn this into a conversation that it is not.”

He said 40 states “have varying degrees of protection and justice for pregnant women and their unborn children who are victims of violence, which is the focus of this. It’s a fetal homicide bill.” He added that 29 states “provide protection for unborn children at any stage of gestation,” and said the definition of unborn child already exists in Iowa Code.

Wheeler returned to that talking point during his closing remarks on the bill. He also sought to portray critics as unhinged: “Sometimes you hear things so out there that your mind just kind of shuts off, and you’re like, ‘What in the world is going on?'”

To hear Wheeler tell the story, the bill is “very simple”: it increases the penalties for killing a mother and her unborn baby.

The legislators in here that are trying to turn this into another discussion—it really wasn’t that difficult. This definition is currently in code. So if you are all worried about all these different things you bring up, you should have been worried about it a long time ago, because the definition already exists.

Wheeler is referring to Iowa Code Chapter 146A.1, which establishes ultrasound requirements and other “prerequisites” for physicians who perform abortions. In 2017—the first year of the GOP trifecta—the legislature amended that statute to replace “fetus” with “unborn child,” defined as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”

Chapter 146A.1 isn’t part of the criminal code; the Iowa Board of Medicine administers its provisions. The ultrasound requirements and other rules doctors must follow before performing an abortion have nothing to do with the IVF process.

House File 2575 would completely change the legal landscape. The current criminal statute only applies to those who cause serious damage or loss of a “human pregnancy” without the pregnant person’s consent. “Terminating a human pregnancy” clearly refers to an embryo or fetus growing inside a uterus. That wording excludes fertilized eggs in a petri dish, or frozen embryos in a fertility clinic.

Once you make someone criminally liable for causing the death of an “unborn person,” from “fertilization to live birth,” it’s not a big leap to imagine felony charges being filed for commonplace IVF practices, such as discarding excess or nonviable embryos.

Wheeler dismissed comparisons to the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling, saying it was grounded in that state’s laws and constitution. “Not to mention the Alabama governor already signed a bill protecting IVF. This bill should have took two minutes. Sometimes you hear things, and you see things, and you just—you can’t wrap your head around the madness.”

Iowans for Health Liberty, a political action committee formed by physicians who support reproductive rights, said in a written statement that the “vague wording” in House File 2575 “could limit or eliminate standard reproductive healthcare in Iowa, in vitro fertilization (IVF), fertility treatments or contraception.” The group added, “It is possible that this Iowa fetal personhood bill could be used in future Iowa court decisions to limit reproductive freedom in ways the Iowa legislature did not intend or anticipate, just as happened recently in Alabama.”


Wheeler sought to frame the bill as a tough-on-crime measure: “you should face some pretty stiff penalties” for killing an unborn baby.

But as Wessel-Kroeschell pointed out during the floor debate, the fiscal note prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency showed Iowans are rarely charged for non-consensual loss of a pregnancy. During fiscal year 2023, there were zero convictions, prison admissions, or probation admissions under that code section, and only one parole.

“So we are raising penalties and creating a personhood amendment under this section of law, for one parole,” Wessel-Kroeschell added. “You can’t tell me there’s been an increase in these crimes.”

The real significance of House File 2575 is not the enhanced penalties, but the redefined terms. Republicans appear to be elevating the status of “unborn persons” in the hope of influencing the Iowa Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on whether the state can enforce the abortion ban now blocked by a lower court order.

Incidentally, three Republicans joined every Democrat present to vote against House File 2575. State Representatives Zach Dieken and Mark Cisneros support abortion bans with no exceptions. During last July’s special legislative session, they voted against the GOP abortion ban, because in their view it didn’t go far enough. The third Republican to oppose the bill was State Representative Brian Lohse. When the House Judiciary Committee considered the proposal last month, he indicated that he did not believe life begins at fertilization.


Earlier on March 7, the Iowa House debated another bill that purported to show concern for children before birth, but in reality posed a threat to pregnant Iowans.

The floor manager, Republican State Representative John Wills, presented House File 2363 as a way to help single mothers. It would allow courts to order fathers to cover part of “reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by the mother related to the mother’s pregnancy prior to the birth of the child,” as well as purchases of “essential items for the health, well-being, and safety” of a newborn.

Wills described the bill as a child support measure, though the legislation didn’t mention child support. He argued that the bill would hold fathers “accountable for their actions,” and help single mothers be “better taken care of,” with “better health care.”

Several Democrats, including State Representatives Megan Srinivas and Brian Meyer, argued persuasively during the floor debate that as written, House File 2363 could allow a potential father (even an abusive partner) to go to court demanding a paternity test before the child was born. Srinivas, who is a medical doctor, explained that the available tests are risky and invasive. OB/GYNs would never recommend such tests as a way to prove paternity, but could be forced by court order to subject pregnant patients to them, if Wills’ proposal became law.

After Srinivas urged colleagues to oppose the bill, House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl announced that he was deferring on House File 2363, without a vote on final passage. It’s extremely rare for a bill to be pulled in the middle of Iowa legislative debate.


Republicans have abandoned plans to pursue a state constitutional amendment on abortion, out of fear that the public would vote to protect abortion rights, as happened recently in other red-state referendums (Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio).

However, GOP lawmakers have found other avenues to advance the anti-abortion agenda. House File 2617 would require schools to show students in grades 7-12 “a computer-generated rendering or animation” about fetal development, similar to the “Meet Baby Olivia” video created by the group Live Action.

Medical professionals have noted that the video is not scientifically accurate and is designed to instill anti-abortion beliefs. House members approved the bill mostly along party lines in late February. It has been assigned to an Iowa Senate subcommittee.

Also last month, the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2252 along party lines. That bill would make it easier to funnel state funds to crisis pregnancy centers, some of which misrepresent their services in order to pressure clients not to have an abortion. A companion bill is eligible for debate in the Iowa House. The state Department of Health and Human Services has already selected four organizations to offer “pregnancy support services” under the program.

Reproductive rights advocates have also expressed concern about Senate File 2286, which would create a sweeping new “right of conscience” exemption, not only for individual health care providers, but also for health care institutions, insurance companies, and employers offering health insurance. The Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee advanced that bill last month along party lines. It has not yet been brought to the Senate floor.

UPDATE: Michaela Ramm reported for the Des Moines Register on possible threats to IVF, including House File 2575. Legislative leaders are downplaying concerns:

“These bills were not crafted with the intention of having any effect on IVF, and they don’t make any changes to IVF in Iowa,” Melissa Saitz, a spokesperson for Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, said in a statement. “The Alabama Supreme Court has no effect on Iowa law. As always, the speaker will continue to seek feedback from Iowans on any legislative changes they would like made on this topic in the future.”

However, Alan Ostergren—the leading attorney for Iowa Republican causes and committees of late—struck a very different tone in his comments to Ramm.

Ostergren argued that the overturning of Roe v. Wade opened the door for legislative scrutiny of certain medical practices, including IVF and surrogacy.

“People have made a mistake if they think that they can just start fertilizing and then freezing embryos in a lab and run a business doing that and have no legal, ethical or moral scrutiny of what they’re doing,” Ostergren said.

SECOND UPDATE: State Senator Brad Zaun, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not advance this bill in time for the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline. Erin Murphy reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

“I would say this: there was some definite concerns about in vitro fertilization and the negative effects and unintended consequences with that (bill), and that was very problematic for myself,” Zaun told reporters after Wednesday’s committee meeting. “And so that’s why I pulled the bill.”

Zaun is a longtime co-sponsor of “personhood” bills in the Iowa Senate, and attempted to advance a personhood bill in 2017, his first year as chair of the Judiciary Committee. He was unable to get the votes to move the bill out of committee that year.

In addition, Democratic State Senator Zach Wahls pointed out that during the Iowa Senate’s special session on abortion in July 2023, Zaun blocked a vote on an amendment that would have expressly protected IVF. While presiding over the debate, Zaun ruled the amendment not germane to the bill.

THIRD UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver told journalists on March 14 he wasn’t “overly familiar” with the bill, adding,

What I do understand about it is it needed work. The IVF part specifically needed work. You know, we were kind of doing the opposite of what Alabama just rushed into session to do, which was allow IVF.

And we just thought—you know, it came over fairly late, and we just thought, that bill is not ready for prime time, we’re going to put it on the shelf and move on.

What Whitver didn’t say: in 2019, he, Zaun, and all of their GOP colleagues voted for a nearly identical bill to enhance criminal penalties for “causing the death of an unborn child.”

Top image: State Representative Skyler Wheeler speaks during Iowa House debate on House File 2575 on March 7. Screenshot from official video.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Why is IVF sacred?

    Above, we read “it’s not a big leap to imagine felony charges being filed for commonplace IVF practices, such as discarding excess or nonviable embryos.” It’s not because a practice is commonplace that it is the right thing to do. Slavery and segregation used to be commonplace. It would be good that someone make a case against IVF.

    Today, we have forgotten that children are gifts (with associated duties) rather than commodities. That adoption and foster care could work better, for more kids. Fertility has become a right and an industry while Government does little to understand or prevent the reasons why more and more couples have low fertility. Our sperm counts are falling and all we get are fertility clinics for the rich.

    Once children are defined as commodities that every couple deserves, they are up to all kinds of abuse. Think of what social media companies do to our kids, how teachers unions and governments closed schools during Covid.

    Once we accept that frozen embryos are non-human commodities, it is fine to use these as butter cream sandwich. This sounds outrageous but consider what just happened in the U.K.: “The bodies of more than 15,000 unborn fetuses have been incinerated in the UK, an investigation has found, with some treated as “clinical waste” and others burned to heat hospitals.”

    I am not saying our Republicans have the right recipe. But it is time for people rather than industries to rethink our ideas of fertility, legacy, education. The way we treat the weakest among us defines our humanity.

  • seems a safe bet that he's just an ignorant simpleton

    we obviously need better sex ed in this state….

  • There is a definite conflict...

    …between what I’ve read about IVF and what I’ve read about the ultimate goals of at least some Iowa right-to-life groups. The conflict may be politically awkward, but it’s there.

  • thanks for the update

    this is where it gets trickier to read the tea leaves as I don’t doubt that they didn’t think thru the implications of the original bill (and I don’t think they are morally troubled by them now that they have been informed by comments) but now that the issues have been raised are they blowing smoke or just acting out of their usual pigheaded reactionary arrogance (like the Gov reacting to civil/human rights pushback to her “commonsense” school policing)? I wish we had reliable press that they would level with but that ship has sailed if it was ever the case.