Gov. Terry Branstad said in an IowaWatch interview he can’t commit support to an effort to extend personhood rights to fetuses at this early stage.

“I’m pro-life and I want to do what I can to encourage things that can protect the lives of unborn children,” Branstad said. “Yet I also recognize that we have to live with the restrictions that have been placed on the states by the courts.”

State Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said he wants to work with his Republican colleagues in next year’s legislative session to pass a bill defining life as beginning at conception. That would guarantee personhood rights to the unborn following a June 27 U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits how much states can restrict abortion access, Schultz said.

“I always reserve judgment on a bill proposed in the Legislature until I see it in its final form,” Branstad said. “I’m very careful about taking a position on a bill that is just introduced by one legislator.”

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Branstad’s 2016 legislative agenda supported an attempt to direct taxpayer funds to health care providers who do not perform abortions. The language is similar to what Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst proposed at the national level.

“We should provide family planning services from organizations that don’t perform abortions,” he said. “I support what the House of Representatives attempted to do in this last session and will continue to support that position and work with legislators that are seeking to get that done.”

That proposal passed the Iowa House but was not debated in the Senate, for which Branstad chastised Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

IowaWatch reached out to Gronstal for comment about Schultz’s proposal and Branstad’s comments. Ron Parker, director of the Senate Democratic staff wrote in an email, “We will pass on commenting at this time.”

State Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig
State Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig

A personhood proposal is not new in the Iowa Legislature. A 2015 House bill similar to what Schultz said he wants to propose would have created a new section in the criminal code identifying fetuses as people who could be defined victims of crimes. The bill was sent to committee but never taken up.

“The Supreme Court decision reinforced that incrementally ending abortion is impossible,” Schultz said in a previous IowaWatch interview. Mark Kende, director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center, said Schultz’s proposal would defy the federal constitution.

Branstad said in the interview Thursday at his office in the Statehouse, “I want to do what can be done but I want to make sure that what we are doing is legal and has a good chance to be upheld through the court system.”

The governor emphasized the importance of family planning not including abortion services. New technologies and increased education about fetal development are positive advances, Branstad said.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re seeing the number of abortions decline,” Branstad said. “And we’re seeing improved technology and more information pregnant women can get about the development of their children.”


This IowaWatch story was republished by The Council Bluffs Nonpareil under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.

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