Criminal penalties for intentionally or accidentally causing the death of a fetus without the consent of the mother would be increased under a bill advancing in the Iowa House. Iowa Catholic Conference lobbyist Tom Chapman says Iowa should treat the killing of a fetus without the consent of the woman as a form of homicide, as several other states do.

“It protects unborn human life in the criminal code in contexts other than abortion or medical procedures,” Chapman says, “so it deems an unborn baby to actually be a person when offenders attack or otherwise harm a pregnant woman.”

The bill would also declared that life starts at conception, something critics like Jamie Burch Elliott of Planned Parenthood say would insert “personhood” language into the state’s criminal code. Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jamie Burch Elliott opposes the bill.

“It sends Iowa down a dangerous path when you define a fertilized egg as a person,” she says. “These changes could have unintended far-reaching consequences including outlawing certain forms of birth control, outlawing invitro fertilization.”

Supporters say the proposal isn’t intended to ban abortion or any other medical procedure. The Iowa Senate passed this bill last year, and the House failed to advance it in 2019 ahead of a legislative deadline.

Abortion opponents held a rally at the state capitol Monday. Representative Steven Holt of Denison chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He told the group a law passed last year may someday shift the court;s position on the issue because it allows the governor to appoint a majority of the panel that nominates future justices.

“We will now have a court that will likely interpret the law by what is written on the page as opposed to rewriting it to match their agenda,” Holt says.

The Iowa Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit from Democratic legislators claiming the judicial nominating law is unconstitutional. The group plans to appeal that decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Katarina Sostaric and Grant Gerlock)