Iowa lawmakers advanced a bill requiring schools to show fetal development videos to students and allowing use of an anti-abortion group’s video that states that life begins at conception.
Republicans on a three-member subcommittee voted to send House File 2031 to the House Education Committee.
The bill would mandate that a video showing the development of a fetus is shown in Iowa K-12 schools’ human growth and development and health classes. The legislation requires that teachers show students an ultrasound video and video showing the development of the brain, heart and other organs in fetal development, as well as a rendering or animation showing the process of fertilization and fetal development during a pregnancy until birth.
In the bill, the video “Meet Baby Olivia,” produced by the anti-abortion group Live Action, was highlighted as an example of the type of video that must be shown in classrooms.
Speakers with reproductive rights groups, including Angela Caulk with the Family Planning Council of Iowa, said the “Baby Olivia” video contains incorrect information, such as claims that a fetus begins movement between five and six weeks. The Mount Sinai Health System’s resource website states fetuses begin to move at 15 to 21 weeks. The video also claims life begins at fertilization, Caulk said, despite research showing a third to a half of eggs that are fertilized never implant and therefore do not develop.
“Why would we subject Iowa students to a video for human growth and development ripe with medically inaccurate information?” Caulk said.
A similar law was signed in 2023 in North Dakota, and state legislatures in Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia are also considering such proposals in 2024.
Shelly Flockhart, a parent, spoke in favor of the legislation, saying she had concerns about the current curriculum in Iowa. Flockhart said her son’s human growth and development education consisted of only “the sex-ed part that went over everything but pregnancy.”
“So, reproductive system, it went over anal and oral, it went over all the STDs, pictures of the STDs, just absolutely everything except for the development of baby,” Flockhart said.
Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, called the “Baby Olivia” video “anti-abortion propaganda.”
“We believe that access to medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education is of the utmost importance — of which this is not,” Stilwell said. “And frankly, as a parent of a kindergartener, 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.”
Ryan Benn with the Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization, said the video is not religious in nature.
“It’s just scientific facts,” Benn said. “The life begins at conception, the baby’s inside the mother’s womb — she’s a baby — and it’d be really good if our kids from a young age could learn that.”
Rep. Anne Osmundson, R-Volga, said there was a “differing of opinions on what medically accurate and what is scientific,” as she supported the bill moving forward.
Dave Daughton, representing the School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said the groups he represented do not have a problem with the content discussed in the bill, but they take issue with mandating specific curriculum.
“We don’t feel like it’s legislators’ responsibility to determine what things are being done in classrooms specifically,” Daughton said. “This bill has a couple of specific, even, items that need to be shown to students, we think that’s overly prescriptive to require school to do that. We would say that if that’s something the Department of Ed or somebody else wants to put together, (allowing educators to) choose to show that information, that would be their responsibility.”
Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, said he understood concerns about mandating certain curriculum, but said that lawmakers “come down here and do mandates every day.”
The bill is next up for consideration by the full House Education Committee Tuesday afternoon.