Bill promoting pregnancy misinformation in school advances in Iowa Senate

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 7, 2024

Dr. Emily Boevers, a licensed OB-GYN in Waverly, said if Iowa Republicans want to require anti-abortion curriculum for children as young as 6 up until they graduate high school, it should at least be factual.

“As a scientist and a physician, I just have to say that it’s very important that we use accurate terminology in our education when we talk about facts,” Boevers said during a Wednesday Iowa Senate subcommittee on SF 2150.

Nonetheless, Republican senators advanced the bill although one agreed it may need some amendments. It matches a House version that advanced last week.

This bill would add requirements to the human growth and development curriculum for all first-grade-12th-grade students in Iowa. The requirements include pregnancy, fetal development, and a three-minute animation of an ultrasound focused on organs developing in a fetus.

It also requires showing a rendering or animation like one developed by Live Action, an anti-abortion group with a reputation for creating deceptive videos. The exact video isn’t required, but one 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.

It also pushes the lie that a heartbeat can be detected in early pregnancy despite there not being a physical heart developed.

Sens. Molly Donahue (D-Cedar Rapids), Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux Center) and Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) were on the committee. Like the House version of the bill, many speakers took issue with the inaccuracies and ideological bent in the video that would be required.

Boevers said the way the videos date pregnancies is off by at least two weeks from the medical understanding. The video also suggests that different activities can be determined during pregnancy, but Boevers said that isn’t true.

“As a women’s health expert, I have to really support that we share accurate information with our children, and this includes full comprehensive health education,” she said. “I am not opposed to showing this information, but I would ask that it be accurate.”

Sen. Taylor asked her if having a different video would make it more acceptable.

“Adding two weeks to those [stages] and editing out some of the commentary about what we are perceiving a fetus to be doing, and the intention behind that would make the video much more factual,” she said.

Others, speaking on behalf of schools, disagreed with the idea of mandating curriculum.

Margaret Buckton, representing the Urban Education Network and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said the specificity of the requirements raises questions.

“Do students have to watch this every year, first grade through sixth grade, and then again in middle school and high school?” she asked. “It seems like we could be using the time for other ways of understanding the content.”

She also pointed out the bill says schools don’t have to show the Live Action video, simply videos like it, but it doesn’t explain who decides what a reasonable alternative would be.

Most supporters argued that the bill teaches basic biology and that children are naturally curious about these things. Amber Williams, a parent and member of Polk County Moms For Liberty, said she wouldn’t have gotten an abortion if she’d been “subjected to” this video in school.

As the bill is written, the new curriculum requirements would start as early as first grade, when children are 6 or 7. People pushing the legislation say this education is the only way to stop younger generations from opposing abortion bans.

Sen. Donahue, speaking as a teacher, pointed out that biology is a mandated class in Iowa high schools and those classes already cover pregnancy. She, and other speakers, also said the level of detail in the vidoes isn’t appropriate for young children, and they might not be developmentally ready for it.

“As far as other sex ed education, I would just like to state, last year that we were told that what is age appropriate, which is far less graphic than this,” Donahue said.

Sen. Taylor agreed with the bill at large but said it needed some amendments. He suggested raising the minimum age to something like fifth grade and agreed that 6-year-olds may not be developmentally ready for the details.

“When we start talking about where a baby comes from, I’m not sure that we really want first graders to hear the news at school, when I think that is probably more appropriate for a parent,” he said.

Taylor also said senators could look at wording in the bill about the video.

“I think that’s worth a little bit of thought. How specific do we want to be? And can we be specific enough to say what it is we want the children to learn from without specifying a particular video one way or the other,” he said.

A subcommittee in the Iowa House advanced the bill on Jan. 30 with Reps. Craig Johnson (R-Independence) and Anne Osmundson (R-Volga) voted for it and Rep. Molly Buck (D-Ankeny) voted against it.

Similar bills have been introduced in Kentucky and West Virginia and it passed in North Dakota last year.

  • 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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