- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An effort by Iowa Republicans to outlaw abortion in the state failed Thursday to advance past a legislative procedural deadline, indicating the so-called personhood bill lacked enough support in the new GOP-controlled Legislature.

Anti-abortion rights groups had rallied for weeks around the legislation, which would have declared that life begins at conception. Other states have considered similar measures, though none have been successful. If enacted, critics said it would have violated longtime U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

A separate bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy remains in play this session, after a procedural vote Thursday in a Senate health committee. Still, it’s unclear if that bill has enough overall support to become law.

Jenifer Bowen, spokeswoman for Iowa Right to Life, called the decision over the personhood bill “disappointing.” She said it meant that lawmakers still had a lot of concerns about how the proposal would impact issues like contraception and in vitro fertilization.

“As much as we’re working on getting those answers, those answers are not completely solid yet,” she said. “And so I take that as a takeaway for us as a pro-life movement to continue to work toward getting all of those concerns abated.”

Rachel Lopez, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa, said in a statement that the personhood bill “was a thinly veiled, unconstitutional attempt” to ban abortion in Iowa.

“Efforts to redefine personhood are extreme, ideologically motivated attempts to ban vital reproductive health services for women,” she added.

The legislation came to an end quietly, by being kept off the agenda of a judiciary committee meeting in the Senate. The committee needed to vote on the measure for it to survive an early March deadline that required certain legislative action on policy bills.

Republican Sen. Brad Zaun, committee chairman and co-sponsor of the bill, made the final decision about the calendar. “I didn’t have the votes,” he said.

Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office after the Nov. 8 election, a win that knocked Democrats from any power for the first time in nearly 20 years. The dynamics have translated into more conservative-leaning bills this session, and anti-abortion rights groups had hoped it meant a chance at a flat-out ban on abortion.

Attention will now shift toward the 20-week bill. Nineteen states have laws that ban abortion at about 20 weeks after fertilization, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Most laws are in effect, though some have been challenged in court.

The legislation is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has gathered evidence that fetal pain is unlikely until weeks later.

The bill in Iowa would have some exemptions, including for a pregnant woman with a medical emergency. A new amendment to the bill would also allow a pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks to be terminated if the fetus had a fatal condition.

Bowen said she feels strongly that lawmakers can get the bill to the governor’s desk but added, “I can’t obviously guarantee that.”


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