State legislation would make assault of pregnant people a felony

By: - February 14, 2023 2:56 pm

Bills are advancing in the Iowa House and Senate that would increase penalties for assaulting pregnant people. (Photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images)

Those who assault pregnant people would face a punishment of up to five years in prison under a bill that was advanced Tuesday by an Iowa Senate subcommittee.

Senate File 223 has the potential to enhance an assault charge — which in some cases can be a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail — to a felony if the crime is “against another person who the (offender) knows or reasonably should know is a pregnant person.”

Ryan Benn, who represents The Family Leader, said his group supports the bill because there should be harsher penalties when there are essentially two victims, taking the unborn child into account.

The punishment set forth in the proposed legislation would be more significant than what exists in current state law for certain cases in which someone injures a “human pregnancy.”

Lisa Davis-Cook, who represents the Iowa Association for Justice, said her group is wary of legislation that adds protected classes of people — in this case, pregnant people — and worries about judgments that someone “should have known” the victim was pregnant.

“You’re putting in a pretty big penalty if someone maybe didn’t have any idea that the person was pregnant,” Davis-Cook said.

The senators who advanced the bill expressed support for an amendment to it that would preclude threats of assault, which can be considered the same as an actual assault under current state law.

“We could take, today, passage with amendment, and then I say wait to see what comes to us from the House, but we may just take the House version and see how that works out,” said Sen. Tom Shipley, a Corning Republican who led the subcommittee.

The comparable legislation in the Iowa House — House File 119 — would increase the severity of assault charges by one degree if the victim is pregnant.

That means an assault that would normally be a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail would be a serious misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to one year. For assaults that unintentionally cause serious injury — which are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison — the punishment would double to 10 years if the victim is pregnant.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.