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Editorial: Personhood amendment unnecessarily dangerous

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Last week, 21 Iowa senators introduced Senate Joint Resolution 10, a measure that would alter the Iowa Constitution to make the word “person” apply to individuals from the beginning of biological development after conception.

This amendment, which would require passage in both houses of the Legislature and ratification in a statewide vote to take effect, would not immediately change the state’s abortion policy, but would lay the groundwork for future efforts to limit abortion in Iowa.

“In and of itself, [the resolution] doesn’t change a whole lot,” Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, told The Daily Iowan. “But it ensures that if pro-life legislation is passed, it won’t be struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court. It’s a supporting document.”

Unsurprisingly, this proposed amendment has been met with considerable opposition from supporters of the right to choose.

“This amendment is far out of the mainstream and could have dangerous consequences for every woman of childbearing age in Iowa — now and far into the future,” Jill June, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, wrote in an email to the DI. “This extreme amendment would ban all safe abortion.”

Indeed, this personhood amendment represents the first step toward scaling back access to abortion in Iowa. Reducing the number of abortions performed in Iowa is an admirable goal, but a personhood amendment and the restrictionist policies that could follow represent dismal public policy.

The basic line of reasoning against restricting abortion is essentially the typical conservative argument against gun control, repurposed. If you outlaw abortion, only outlaws will perform abortions.

This phenomenon is supported anecdotally by the recent story of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist charged with murder after performing illegal late-term abortions in deplorable conditions, and empirically, by a 2009 study of abortion policy from the Guttmacher Institute.

“Restrictive laws have much less impact on stopping women from ending an unwanted pregnancy than on forcing those who are determined to do so to seek out clandestine means,” study author Susan A. Cohen found.

Put simply, restrictive policies that seek to flatly ban abortion do very little to curb demand for abortions. Given the safety concerns surrounding these policies, restricting access to abortion also seems like a comparatively inhumane way of reducing the abortion rate.

Anti-abortion rights legislators would do well to adopt policies with a proven record of reducing the demand for and, thus, the incidence of abortion. Increased access to contraception would go a long way toward limiting abortion, for example.

According to a 2012 Washington University study, the abortion rate for women who were provided with free contraception between 2008 and 2010 was 70 percent below the national average.

By contrast, an August 2012 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research projected that if Roe v. Wade were overturned and the 31 most conservative states adopted full abortion bans, the national abortion rate would fall by about 15 percent.

These studies illustrate the triumph of reducing unwanted pregnancies over restrictionism.

Indeed, data from the Centers for Disease Control show that abortion rates in Iowa are falling.

Iowa’s abortion rate fell by 5 percent between 2008 and 2009, the most recent year for which CDC data are available.

The falling abortion rate is likely due, at least in part, to increased access for and use of contraceptives.

If Iowa’s legislators are serious about combating abortion, the right thing to do is to reduce the demand for abortions by striking at the root causes of unwanted pregnancies.

A personhood amendment is an unnecessarily dangerous and unproductive way to fight abortion.

Go back to the drawing board.


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