By Craig Robinson
A common theme at the pro-life rally at the State Capitol this week was that medical advances in the last 15 to 20 years have helped the pro-life cause. One speaker noted that young adults have grown up in an age where sonograms are often times the first pictures in their baby books. As society recognizes that life begins long before a baby draws its first breath, the pro-life movement in American grows stronger.
Back in January, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that in the last two years, 30 states have passed 135 new laws restricting abortion. The good news is that Iowa is one of those thirty states listed by the publication. The bad news is that Iowa doesn’t deserve to be included on a list of states that have passed new restrictions on abortion. While science continues to bolster the pro-life argument across the country, nothing has been done in the Iowa legislature to restrict abortions or make them more rare in the last 15 years.
The last time a piece of pro-life legislation reached the Governor’s desk in Iowa, Tom Vilsack was in office, and he promptly vetoed the measures each time. It didn’t matter if it was a 24-hour waiting period, or something as non-confrontational as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act – Vilsack vetoed it. No legislation that protects innocent life or makes abortion more rare has landed on the governor’s desk since.
In fact, the last time a piece of pro-life legislation was enacted in Iowa was in 1998, when Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a bill that banned the practice of partial birth abortions. Branstad also signed a parental notification law in 1996 and a statistical reporting law in 1997. It’s be 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe, but for the last 15 years, Iowa has done nothing to protect innocent life.
The State of Iowa now ranks 37th in the Americans United for Life state ranking for 2013. If being in the bottom fourth of states isn’t bad enough, Iowa ranks lowers on the list than any adjoining state. Nebraska is ranked sixth, Missouri eighth, South Dakota 13th, Wisconsin 21st, Minnesota 28th, Illinois 36th, and then Iowa comes in at 37th.
Many pro-life Iowans would point to the Democratic controlled Iowa Senate as the reason why little has been done on their issue, and there is some truth to that, but other states with far less conservative legislatures than Iowa have been able to make advances in the life movement. Even though Iowa has not signed any new abortion restrictions into law in the last 15 years, the issues are always debated in the legislature year in and year out.
Despite Democrats holding 26 of the 50 seats in the chamber, there are at least 25 pro-life votes to be had. Democrat Senator Joe Seng was the lone Democrat to participate in the rally on Monday. The other obstacle, 12 years of Democrats controlling the governor’s office, was removed when Terry Branstad defeated Governor Chet Culver in 2010.
Despite having a Republican governor, a Republican majority in the Iowa House, and 25 pro-life votes in the Iowa Senate, the chances of Iowa joining the other 29 states that have passed numerous pro-life pieces of legislation into law in the past two years are slim to none. Yes, the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has control over what bills are brought up for debate in the Senate is still an obstacle, but so too is the strategy that some pro-life legislators and groups have employed in recent years.
While numerous states passed fetal pain bills that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a similar effort in Iowa was blocked not by Democrats, but rather by some of the most ardent pro-life legislators because they believed the bill wasn’t strong enough. This opposition came despite the fact that infamous late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart was openly speculating about opening a new abortion clinic specializing in the most gruesome types of abortion in Council Bluffs after his Omaha clinic was shut down as a result of similar legislation in Nebraska. As other states seized the opportunity to take additional steps to limit abortions, Iowa accomplished nothing because some legislators and pro-life leaders have stated that the only pro-life bill that they are interested in is personhood.
This year, a similar scenario is taking place again. While there is a real desire to ban web-cam abortions in Iowa or pass the late-term abortion ban like other states did last year, the bill that is being pushed this year is House File 138, known as the Equal Protection for Innocent Life bill. House File 138 redefines the term “person” to include a human being without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception when the zygote is formed, until natural death.
The bill is highly controversial, mainly because a woman who aborts her baby could be charged with murder along with the doctor who performs the abortion. The prospects of the bill advancing even in the Republican controlled House are slim, but this is the bill that some pro-family organizations have chosen to rally behind instead of something less controversial and more likely to find Democrat support in the Iowa Senate.
Proponents of House File 138 argue that the bill is the “gold standard” as far as pro-life legislation is concerned, but in backing the bill, they risk not making any progress at all. Proponents also argue that it’s important to find out which legislators are really pro-life and which ones are not. The idea of using a highly controversial bill to gauge how pro-life Republican legislators are means they have no confidence about passing any piece of pro-life legislation, which is the wrong approach.
Until the pro-life movement in Iowa can unite around a common cause, progress seems unlikely. Daniel McConchie of Americans Untied for Life, the featured speaker at Monday’s rally, offered some excellent advice that should be followed. McConchie told the crowd that was assembled under the Capitol’s dome that there is no silver bullet or any one law that will overturn abortion in America.
McConchie right. And until Iowa legislators and the pro-life community recognize that incrementalism and progress are not bad things, Iowa is going to drop farther and farther behind other states when it comes to protecting innocent life.
It’s time to stop using the life issue as a political football and focus on passing legislation that most Iowans would support and consider reasonable. The goal is to expand the culture of life, not win an award for who is the most conservative among us.
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