Iowa Republicans Advance Part of Anti-Choice Blitz

Democrats, a former Iowa Republican official, and reproductive rights advocates said defunding Planned Parenthood would have grave consequences for thousands of Iowans.

If the bill passes in the House, it will land of the desk of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who the Trump administration has picked for the U.S. ambassador to China position last year. Steve Pope/Getty Images

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are launching an anti-choice push that includes stripping Planned Parenthood of government funding and introducing bills that would criminalize abortion care and allow abortion patients to sue the physician performing the procedure.

In a 30-20 vote, the GOP-majority state senate last week passed SF 2, a measure that would bar entities that offer abortion care from receiving funds as part of a new, state-operated family planning services program. All 29 Republicans in the state senate were joined by Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) in approving the measure defunding Planned Parenthood.

The bill, now headed to the GOP-held Iowa House of Representatives, would require the Iowa Department of Human Services to discontinue the state’s Medicaid-funded Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN) waiver and replace it with the new program on July 1. The programs fund critical services such as annual exams and birth control.

If the bill passes in the house, it will land of the desk of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who the Trump administration has picked for the U.S. ambassadorship to China.

Branstad in 2013 approved a state budget that gave him authority to decide on a case-by-case basis whether someone seeking Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or life endangerment could be reimbursed.

Under his leadership, the state passed an unconstitutional ban on telemedicine abortions, among other anti-choice measures.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said in a statement on Facebook that the SF 2 anti-choice bill would endanger the health of thousands of Iowans.

“This bill does nothing to advance their extremist agenda to limit access to abortion. Instead, it blocks access to crucial family planning services for thousands of Iowans—the very services that most effectively prevent abortion. It’s a self-serving, misleading, and dangerous political game,” the statement said.

The measure would erode access to safe, legal reproductive care in a state where 85 percent of the counties have no abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland maintains 12 Iowa clinics, eight of which offer abortion care. The independent Emma Goldman Clinic also provides abortion care.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Joy Corning, a former Planned Parenthood board member, panned the passing of SF 2 in a recent column, saying it was “antithetical to the goals of the Republican Party” because the provider has actually helped reduce abortion rates by providing family planning services and sex education.

Rachel Lopez, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said many Iowa medical clinics would not be able to accommodate higher patient volumes or match the same level of expert sexual and reproductive health care that Planned Parenthood offers, the Des Moines Register reported.

A joint poll conducted by the Register and Mediacom Iowa in 2016 found that 74 percent of Iowa adults wanted Planned Parenthood to continue to receive funding for health services other than abortion care.

More than 12,000 residents participate in the IFPN waiver program, according to a Legislative Services Agency fiscal note. The agency’s note estimated that SF 2 would raise the state’s general fund expenditures by $2.1 million in fiscal year 2018 and by $3.1 million for a full year in fiscal year 2019.

The federal government gives Iowa most of the money for the IFPN program, money which would likely be forfeited if the bill passes, Iowa Public Radio reported. In fiscal year 2016, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland received about $1 million in funding through the waiver, according to the Courier.

Eighteen state senators co-sponsored SF 2, including Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), who introduced two anti-choice bills last month.

One of the bills, the multifaceted SF 54, would redefine “murder” by allowing a fetus weighing 350 grams or more to be considered a person under the state’s murder statute.

The bill would require a fetal death certificate for fetuses weighing at least 350 grams and would penalize pregnant people and abortion providers for terminating or attempting to terminate a pregnancy involving a fetus weighing 350 grams.

The average fetus weighs 350 grams around the 20th and 21st week of gestation.

Under SF 54, murder would not include a stillbirth, fetal death, miscarriage, or an abortion necessary to preserve the life or health of the pregnant person, among other exceptions.

Chelgren’s other anti-choice bill, SF 26, would allow a person to file a civil lawsuit against their abortion provider for physical injury or emotional distress “caused as the result of the physician’s negligence or failure to obtain informed consent prior to performance of the abortion.”

The provisions would allow a lawsuit even when a consent form is filed and would only exclude incidents where abortion care is performed due to a medical emergency.

“The whole idea behind this is that we want to make sure that women who are making a very difficult decision in their life have some recourse if they have mental health issues because of that decision,” Chelgren told local media. “They need to be aware of that from their practicing physician about the abortion.”

JAMA Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical Association, released a study last year debunking the notion that abortion led to depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

Chelgren had introduced SF 26 so that a person could sue any time, but a state senate subcommittee said the bill should limit the time frame in which a person could file suit, according to the Register. Iowa lawmakers tried to pass a similar bill in 2014.

State Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines), a private practice lawyer who opposes the bill, said SF 26 would bring about a “shocking change in liability law where you have a statute saying it is basically about informed consent, but then it says that even if you get informed consent it doesn’t eliminate your right to file a claim,” the Register reported.

Erin Davison-Rippey, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, called the bill a “blatant attempt to intimidate abortion providers,” the Register reported. The bill was also unnecessary, she said, because state law allows patients to sue for physical injury or emotional distress.