Iowa House Passes Bill to Affirm Personhood at Moment of Fertilization

The legislation would also increase penalties for those who cause the death of an unborn child without the consent of the mother.

Facade of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines
Facade of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines (photo: Paul Brady / Shutterstock)

The Iowa House of Representatives passed legislation that would recognize the personhood of unborn children at the moment of fertilization and increase penalties for those who cause the death of an unborn baby without the consent of the mother.

An unborn person, as defined in the bill, is “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from the moment of fertilization to live birth.” Current law already prohibits the nonconsensual “termination of a human pregnancy,” but this would shift the language to grant legal recognition and protection to the “unborn person.”

The bill would also increase penalties for violations of this law.

Causing death or serious injury to an unborn person during the commission of a “forcible felony” or during the commission of a “felony or felonious assault” would be subject to a Class A felony, which is punishable up to life in prison. 

A person who intentionally causes the death of an unborn person “without the knowledge or voluntary consent of the pregnant [woman]” in any other context would be subject to a Class B felony, which is punishable up to 25 years in prison. One who attempts to commit such a crime would be subject to a Class C felony, which is punishable up to 10 years in prison.

The bill would not expressly prohibit in vitro fertilization (IVF), but it does not exempt unborn children who are created through IVF from these protections. 

Although it is unclear whether the law would affect IVF in Iowa, critics of the legislation have pointed to an Alabama Supreme Court ruling late last month that ruled that human embryos in the state are covered under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act because the law protects “all children, born and unborn.”

The bill forced several IVF clinics in Alabama to shut down. Shortly thereafter, Republican lawmakers passed legislation to grant civil and criminal immunity to IVF clinics to prevent lawsuits against them. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill on Thursday. 

IVF is a fertility treatment opposed by the Catholic Church because it separates the marriage act from procreation and destroys embryonic human life. Through IVF, doctors fuse sperm and eggs to create human embryos. While some are implanted and ultimately born, most are either destroyed or frozen indefinitely. Millions of unborn children have been killed or indefinitely frozen through IVF since the 1980s. 

Acknowledging the advances in science available today to those seeking help having children, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warns Catholics on its website of the ethical issues involved.

“The many techniques now used to overcome infertility also have profound moral implications, and couples should be aware of these before making decisions about their use,” the guidance reads.

The legislation passed by the House does not prohibit abortions commissioned by the mother of the unborn child. In 2018, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation to prohibit abortion at the six-week mark, but that law was blocked by the courts and is currently being reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court.

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