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Iowa Democrats call for open hearing on ‘personhood’ bill

Iowa Democrats are calling for an immediate public hearing on a bill they say will endanger the lives of women who suffer ectopic pregnancies, will deny access to birth control and limit options for couples struggling to conceive.

“This is an enormous change in public policy, should it become law,” state Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) said Thursday. Both Democrat and Republican leaders said they are not sure when the public hearing will be held, but Mascher said it could be as early as next week.

“We’re going to be scheduling it now because we’d like to see it happen as soon as possible,” Mascher said.

House File 153, passed Monday in subcommittee, would mandate that the state recognize life starting at conception, rather than birth as it does currently, and each life as defined by the bill would be afforded “the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the constitutions of the state of Iowa and the United States.”

Democrats said they fear the bill would have grave ramifications. The legislation could limit birth control access for women capable of becoming pregnancy, Democrats argued, and would apply to ectopic and other high risk pregnancies.

An ectopic pregnancy is one where the egg implants itself outside of the uterus. Such pregnancies are often not able to be viable, and if untreated, can lead to internal bleeding — or death — for the mother.

Groups who are likely to testify at or attend the public hearing are already taking stances on the issue, specifically Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

In a statement Thursday, local Planned Parenthood officials denounced HF 153, claiming the 29 Republicans who signed on as sponsors had failed to consider ramifications to Iowans while drafting the legislation, and called it “a waste of time, money and energy.”

“This is a prime example of lawmakers crafting bills without thinking about the larger impact on Iowans,” Planned Parenthood’s statement read. “This bill would require massive changes to Iowa law. By writing into law that life begins at conception, the bill impacts contraception, infertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization, and could even have an impact with miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.”

Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center and outspoken supporter of the bill, did not immediately return a message left for him Thursday.

Other groups are still on the fence about HF 153, including the Iowa Catholic Conference, an organization which lobbies on behalf of Catholic interests in public policy. Though the group openly supports House File 5, which seeks to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks with the exception of medical emergencies, executive director Tom Chapman said Thursday that his organization has yet to pick a side on HF 153.

“We’re registered as undecided on [HF 153} right now,” he said. “We’re monitoring it.”

Chapman said fundamentally, the group supports HF 153’s objective, “to ultimately protect human life, but I don’t think, legally speaking, that this bill is a good strategy. I just think the vehicle here is flawed.”

Speaker of the Iowa House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said he and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner) have not entered in-depth discussions on the bill yet. Paulsen said, however, the Democrats’ description of HF 153 as being deadly and extreme is “the Democrats speaking in hyperbole.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) brushed off such comments Thursday, saying House Democrats will “not going to let this go by quietly. We want to pack the room for this public hearing, and let people speak on this.”

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