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Personhood bill fails, 20-week abortion ban survives

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DES MOINES — A Senate committee in the Legislature approved a bill that would ban most abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy Thursday evening. But two other bills seeking to restrict abortions did not survive the session’s first funnel deadline.

Senate File 53 passed on a 9-to-3 vote in the Human Resources Committee. Two Democrats backed the bill after it was amended to include exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

The amendment was added after Amanda Acton of Waukee offered emotional testimony Tuesday about having an abortion in her 21st week after learning her child did not have lungs.

“We did listen,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa.

But that was not enough for some Democrats.

“Not every pregnancy ends the way a family hopes it will,’ said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “Sometimes it ends in miscarriage, sometimes the mother finds out there is something seriously wrong with her baby. Abortions later in pregnancy may make us uncomfortable, but one thing we can all agree on is that a woman’s health and safety is crucial.”

Bolkcom said the best way to prevent abortions is to fund family-planning services and support contraception.

“Extreme bans do nothing to reduce abortions and hinder medical care,” he said.

The bill next goes before the full Senate for a vote.

A similar piece of legislation, House File 293, which passed a House subcommittee Wednesday, did not make it out of committee. That legislation, along with SF 253, the so-called personhood bill — which could have effectively banned abortions — died Thursday afternoon.

The legislation — which women’s health organizations called “extreme and reckless” — declared life is “protected from the moment of conception” so a fertilized egg is “accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons.”

Opponents, including Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the bill would have limited severely access to most forms of birth control and negatively impacted families seeking to use in vitro fertilization. Similar measures have failed in recent years in Colorado, North Dakota and Mississippi.

“SF 253 was a thinly veiled, unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion in the state of Iowa,” said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in a statement. “Even fellow Senate Republicans recognized it would have far-reaching unintended consequences and refused to vote in its favor.”

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who chaired the committee and was a co-sponsor of Senate File 253, expressed disappointment the bill did not survive. But he added, “This is how the process works.”

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