Common Sense: When Bi-partisanship Works
by Bob Eschliman
Whatever you call it, given the political climate just about everywhere in the United States right now, it’s not often you find an overwhelming consensus on something other than a joint resolution congratulating a little old lady in a small-town nursing home for reaching 100 years of age. But, such a lopsided vote, regardless of the issue, implies the matter was a “slam dunk,” a “bunny shot,” to use a couple of basketball terms.
In the case of Iowa House File 2368, a bill creating certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth, you couldn’t be more wrong if you made that assumption.
Those of you who are regular readers of SteveDeace.com already know the heartbreaking story of Melody Ford, an unborn child with Down Syndrome who died 21 weeks before she was supposed to be born. And, you’re likely aware of her mother’s efforts to get HF 2368 passed. But, what you might not know is just how much hard work she had to put in to see that dream realized.
Not long after finding out Melody had died, but before delivering her into the world, Mandy began researching on the Internet. In one respect, she was looking for details, any missed clue, that could explain her death. But, on the other hand, she was also looking for answers to living with the sudden and seemingly insurmountable grief she now faced.
“I found an organization called the MISS Foundation. MISS stands for Mothers In Sympathy and Support,” she said. “It was founded by a mom who lost her daughter about 15 minutes before birth.”
The MISS Foundation is a nonprofit corporation committed to helping families discover hope and eventually heal from the trauma of a child’s death. The organization also is committed to not only finding answers to the question “Why?” but also to providing comfort to those who are and who have experienced loss associated with stillbirth.
One piece of legislation the MISS Foundation champions is the Missing Angels Bill, which was eventually used as the blueprint to write HF 2368. When Mandy began her mission, it had been passed in slightly more than half of the states, while the process in Iowa had stalled out after nearly 11 years of effort by another mother who lost a child to stillbirth, Christine Grothe.
“I almost died giving birth to her and lost the ability to have any more children,” Grothe said. “A few weeks after I returned home, after I buried my daughter, I received a death certificate in the mail — a death certificate. My husband and I didn’t understand how you could have a death certificate without a birth certificate.”
Ford had the same question: “How could someone die if they were never born?”
Like Grothe, Ford was told initially that a bill to create certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth — very distinctly different than certificates of stillbirth, particularly to grieving parents — was a battle that could not be won. It was even more so when one considers the polarized nature of today’s political reality in Des Moines.
“I went to Rep. (Richard) Anderson (R-Clarinda) and told him what I wanted to do. I told him not another year could go by without this bill passing,” she said. “He really worked with me to help get the bill started, but he didn’t want to introduce it until he had co-sponsors.”
Within a few days, a bipartisan group of nearly 20 members of the Iowa House had signed on as co-sponsors of the Iowa version of the Missing Angels Bill. A companion bill was initiated in the Iowa Senate, and soon thereafter additional co-sponsors were found for that bill.
And, then, the politics began.
Despite widespread and bipartisan support in both houses of the General Assembly, it was in danger of failing to get out of committee in either chamber before the critical “funnel day.” Committee members, it seemed, were scared the bill would have a Pandora’s Box effect, spring boarding into issues like abortion and personhood, which were far more polarizing and volatile.
Now, this is the really cool part of the story — particularly for fans of SteveDeace.com. Steve’s producer and one half of the famous “Amen Corner,” Rebekah Maxwell, learned about Mandy’s efforts from yours truly, and asked her to write about her experience and what the bill would mean for grieving families in the state, and posted it to the radio host’s website.
ADHD Moment: Did you know liberals and Democrats read the website, too? I always suspected, but never really knew for sure until now. OK… back to the story.
Tom Jochum, a former Democrat legislator turned professional lobbyist, was scanning Steve’s website, expecting to find something that would anger or disgust him, as usual. Instead, he found Ford’s heart-wrenching story, and was compelled to help.
“What Tom did for us was nothing short of amazing,” Ford said. “He opened doors for us that I don’t think we ever could have approached on our own.”
With the former legislator’s help, strong bipartisan support for the bill grew in both houses. And, just as she dreamed a few months earlier, Ford testified before an Iowa House committee, answering questions, dispelling concerns from both sides of the political spectrum, and otherwise championing a cause so very dear to her.
In the end, the bill passed out of the House with one very minor change, 98-0.
But, to become law, the bill had to pass the Senate, as well. And, although bipartisan support was strong in that chamber, another player was attempting to kill the bill. Or, at the very least, Planned Parenthood was bent on significantly altering the bill from its original form.
“Tom told me the lobbyist for Planned Parenthood said the bill gave him heartburn,” Ford said. “I’m sorry, but the pain and suffering of my family and the thousands of other families out there that have had to deal with this trumps his heartburn every time.”
So, Jochum talked directly with the lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, and when the organization continued to present an obstacle to the bill’s passage, he took it a step farther. He went directly to his good friend, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs).
That’s right… the guy notoriously and forever connected to the phrase “Gronstalling.”
“Senator Gronstal and Senator Jack Hatch, a strong proponent for Planned Parenthood, really got them to back off. They went into a meeting with the Senate committee before the committee met and told them, ‘This is a good bill. It’s not a provocative bill. Let’s get it passed,’” Ford said. “That’s really something, coming from people you normally would never expect to be on the same side of an issue with.”
The bill passed out of the Senate committee unanimously. And, after a brief debate in the Senate, it passed the upper chamber, 50-0.
The final action required for any bill to become law in Iowa is the signature of the Governor. In this case, however, a formal bill-signing ceremony was held Monday, March 26. Ford and Grothe and several other families who had worked to get Iowa’s version of the Missing Angels Bill passed were on hand.
Ford said the experience of watching the bill being signed is one she will cherish forever.
Gov. Branstad signed the bill into law, which became effective immediately. However, the Iowa Department of Public Health required an additional two weeks to make the necessary changes to forms and documents to comply with the new law.
Families may now apply for certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth. The new law also was retroactive, meaning any family that experienced a loss similar to Ford’s, regardless of when it happened, would be eligible to receive the new certificates, as well.
Mandy and David Ford are expecting another child, who they just found out via ultrasound will be a boy. Their son has just surpassed the 20th week of gestational age, but she admits she won’t be able to completely relax until he is born, alive and well.
As for her mission to ensure there is comfort and healing provided to future families who go through what she and her family had to endure, Mandy Ford said she is continuing to work toward providing “grief packets” through hospitals across the state. She said it is important for families to know there are resources available to help them.
“Families are sort of left wishing they knew they could have done this or that,” she said. “So, I want them to have these packets in the hospitals, so families can have that information.”