June 8, 2011
Ok, maybe not. But a bill with a length rivaling Tolstoy’s War & Peace was debated in the House yesterday. The Omnibus Budget Bill has become known a “Frankenstein” bill because it brings to back to life several issues that had already died (sometimes more than once) this session.
The gigantic omnibus bill was handed out to legislators on Monday and required shrink-wrap to contain its approximately 600 pages.
And if that monster wasn’t enough for House members to process, the same day it was handed out, the House Ways and Means Committee was faced with lengthy discussions on abortions:
Criminalizing Mid-Term Abortions (SF534)
That old adage about not watching sausage or laws being made held true once again Wednesday.
SF534, as passed by the Senate, modified the application process for any new outpatient surgical facility providing abortions after 20 weeks in a way that would ensure the protection of the life of the pregnant woman and any potentially viable fetus. An amendment Monday was introduced in the House to strike everything in the bill and replace it with extreme changes to Iowa’s current criminal feticide statute.
As amended, SF534 would subject abortion providers to a 10-year criminal sentence if they terminate a pregnancy after 20 “completed weeks.” In an outrageous move, any exception for the health of the mother was specifically stricken from the bill.
But what horrified me the most, as a civil libertarian and an Iowa woman, was when the bill manager stated that the normal, human gestation period was 36 weeks (it’s actually approximately 40) and the second trimester period runs from 20 to 23 weeks!
To make matters worse, the bill manager was “surprised” to hear from the press that SF534 “was tougher than the previous version” of the 20-week ban bill. (Click here for a Radio Iowa story summarizing.)
This is exactly what Iowa does not want: Significant, personal, medical decisions taken away from Iowa’s pregnant women, their families, faith advisors, and trained medical professionals and placed in the hands of bureaucrats who don’t even know basic reproductive facts.
However, SF534 was voted on in the house without debate, even though the harmful amendment was ruled not germane and needed a suspension of the rules to consider it, with the only comments made by the bill’s floor manager.
The bill will now go to the Senate. Please click here to contact your senator and ask that person to vote a resounding “NO” on this devious measure that places Iowa’s women at an extreme risk.
Troublesome sections of the giant omnibus budget bill:
The Anti-Victim Section
There just doesn’t seem to be enough anti-female, anti-choice sentiment to go around, does there?
This unconscionable section of the bill would prohibit Medicaid funds from being used for abortions resulting from incest or rape. This would mean that only wealthy victims could receive an abortion, while poor victims would have to take to term the result of the incredibly invasive crime against them.
This same attempt was refused by the Senate earlier in the session–but here it is again, back in Frankenstein form.
The Criminalizing Synthetic Marijuana Section
Under this section if passed, synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or bath salts, would be criminalized.
There had been disagreement this session over the severity of the penalty–felony vs. aggravated misdemeanor. The ACLU does not support punitive drug policies that have resulted in unprecedented levels of incarceration.
The Graham Amendment
The United States Supreme Court recently held that giving a juvenile a life sentence for a non-homicide offense without a “meaningful opportunity” for parole is unconstitutional, and the Iowa Supreme Court subsequently concurred.
This portion of the omnibus bill would fix a juvenile’s eligibility for parole at 25 years, the length suggested by the Iowa Bar Association. However, the bill takes a significant step away from the Supreme Court’s ruling by prohibiting parole for juveniles who are convicted of a class A felony and first-degree kidnapping or first-degree sexual abuse. This is a violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and defeats the purpose of the Supreme Court’s holding.
The School Dress Code Section
Currently, Iowa school districts can tell students only what they can’t wear. This bill would allow school districts to tell students what they must wear (i.e., khaki pants, blue shirt, etc.), creating the the equivalent of school uniforms.
This has the potential to open school districts up to constitutional legal challenges based on, for example, restricting a student’s freedom of speech.
At the end of this abnormally convoluted legislative week, House members started packing their boxes to go home and expressed their hope that they would not have to return to the Capitol until there is a resolution of the budget stalemate.
I am also going to attempt to share in that optimism.
Anna J. Dey
ACLU of Iowa