GOP bill that promotes anti-abortion propaganda in Iowa schools advances

Anne Osmundson and Craig Johnson

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 30, 2024

Republican lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill to teach anti-abortion curriculum to elementary, middle and high schoolers.

This bill, HF 2031, would require the human growth and development curriculum to include a three-minute animation showing organs developing in a fetus.

It also requires showing a rendering or animation like one developed by an extreme anti-abortion group called Live Action with a reputation for creating deceptive videos. This specific video isn’t required, but the law requires a video like it.

The video used as an example in the bill is computer generated, argues life begins at conception, and lies about actual fetal development, saying some stages happen earlier in development than they actually do and that brain waves can be detected, which isn’t true at any point in pregnancy.

The video also pushes the lie that the electrical pulses that can be detected as early as six weeks is a heartbeat, despite there not being a physical heart developed.

The curriculum requirements would start as early as first grade, which typically includes  6- and 7-year-olds. National anti-abortion groups who are pushing the legislation in other states say this education is the only way to stop younger generations from opposing abortion bans.

A few of the speakers at the subcommittee meeting said that too.

Amber Williams, a parent from Urbandale and member of Polk County Moms for Liberty, said she wouldn’t have had an abortion if she’d been shown the video starting when she was 6 or 7.

“Personally, I wish I would have been subjected to this curriculum starting in first grade all the way through my senior year, because by the time I was 18, I knew more about choice than I did about life,” she said.

Williams and Iowa Republicans have argued in the past that children younger than 12 or 13 are too young to learn about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Representatives from the Family Planning Council of Iowa, Planned Parenthood North Central States, and Interfaith Alliance all spoke in opposition. They cited the medical inaccuracies in the Live Action video and the fact that it pushes an agenda not all parents agree with.

Angela Caulk of the Family Planning Council of Iowa pointed out how this legislation has been pushed in other states.

“The legislation was passed in North Dakota in 2023 and is currently moving through legislatures in Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia, so I think we can see the pattern here,” she said. “Why would we subject Iowa students to a video for human growth and development with medically inaccurate information?”

Even if parents can opt their children out of the curriculum, Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said it’s not appropriate to push agendas in school, especially an agenda filled with misinformation.

Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said she agrees students should learn about pregnancy and emphasized how important age-appropriate, medically accurate sex ed is for healthy relationships and decision-making. However, she said this isn’t the way to do it.

“Frankly, as a parent of a kindergartner, the idea of showing this propaganda video next year really boggles my mind. I’m struggling to understand how on one hand, we are banning books and on the other hand, we are prescribing anti-abortion propaganda,” Stilwell said.

Aside from the anti-abortion angle, several school groups like the Iowa Association of School Boards and Rural School Advocates of Iowa objected to putting specific curriculum in Iowa Code. They said that’s an unusual step, and it’s their reason for not supporting the bill.

Rep. Molly Buck (D-Ankeny) was the only member of the subcommittee who voted against advancing the bill.

As an educator, Buck said she doesn’t think it’s appropriate to share videos in schools that advance a Christian worldview, considering schools have to teach all kids of all faiths.

“As a teacher, I really try to be especially cautious about offering opinions to kids and offering things that are not correct to kids,” she said. “This video is offering things to kids, offering facts to kids, that are disguised as facts and, and really falsehoods.”

Buck said she watched the video mentioned in the bill and then reached out to licensed OB-GYNs about the information in it.

“[They] told me their first issue with this was that the video does contain a lot of inaccuracies, according to board-certified obstetricians. And those are the people, I guess that I would trust,” she said.

Reps. Craig Johnson (R-Independence) and Anne Osmundson (R-Volga) voted to advance it.

Osmundson who is a cosponsor on the bill, said, “I think there is a differing of opinions on what’s medically accurate and what is scientific. So I would like to see the bill move forward.”

The bill is sponsored by: Luana Stoltenberg (R-Davenport), Mark Cisneros (R-Muscatine), Anne Osmundson (R-Volga), Tom Determann (R-Clinton), Brad Sherman (R-Williamsburg), Helena Hayes (R-New Sharon), Bob Henderson (R-Sioux City), Barb Kniff McCulla (R-Knoxville), Cindy Golding (R-Cedar Rapids), Dean Fisher (R-Montour), and Zach Dieken (R-Granville).

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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