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Branstad champions idea of defunding Planned Parenthood without naming it

Language would keep state money from any provider that includes abortions

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DES MOINES — Under pressure from conservatives opposed to abortion rights, Gov. Terry Branstad says he will pursue policy language as part of his 2016 legislative agenda requiring that taxpayer funds go only to health care providers that do not offer abortion procedures.

The provision effectively would end state funding of Planned Parenthood clinics, something that GOP legislators and social conservatives have sought since a series of videos were released last year by an anti-abortion rights organization that purportedly show Planned Parenthood officials elsewhere discussing the sale of organs from aborted fetuses.

“What we’re looking at is trying to provide for the services without providing the funding to groups that provide abortions,” the Republican governor said in an interview. “We are working with the Legislature and we’ve had several meetings with the legislators on that and are working on language that is very similar to language that Sen. Joni Ernst proposed at the national level.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama vetoed Republican-inspired legislation to repeal his health care law as well as cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The bill sought to end roughly $450 million in yearly federal funding for the organization.

At the state level, Branstad said he is looking to redirect funds for family planning, pregnancy prevention, abstinence and other services to state and county health departments, community health centers, hospitals and physicians offices to provide women’s health services.

The language — which Branstad said is similar to provisions adopted in some other states — would not specifically name Planned Parenthood but the effect would be to defund any provider that includes abortion services in its care offerings.

“A governor cannot unilaterally say we’re going to terminate this contract with Planned Parenthood. Every governor that has tried has lost in court, so I’ve said I’m not going to do that,” Branstad said. “But I’m very willing to work with the Legislature and come up with a better way to fund programs to help needy women that need family planning or pregnancy prevention, but that can be done through groups that don’t provide abortions.”

Iowa officials say no state money goes for abortion services. But GOP lawmakers want to halt any government money going even indirectly to Planned Parenthood organizations in Iowa.

Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes said the timing of the change would depend on how the legislation was crafted once the 86th Iowa General Assembly convenes its 2016 session Monday.

He said the new policy language would not be included in budget documents his administration presents to lawmakers Tuesday.

The state currently is in the process of switching over to a privately managed Medicaid system that will operate under new contracts with health care providers. But Hammes did not envision a problem if the legislation is adopted by the split-control Legislature once private managed care organizations are overseeing most of Iowa’s Medicaid programs.

“Depending on the way it’s written could depend on when the contracts would be canceled, which could be anytime,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s a hang-up based on existing contracts. That’s the way I understand it.”

Iowa Democrats in the House and Senate have opposed the GOP efforts, with Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, noting that Planned Parenthood provides important family planning, cancer screening and health services for women — some that help avoid pregnancies. Halting those services, he said, “really ends up with more abortions, not less.”

Gronstal said the Legislature could be in for “a very long session” if majority House Republicans and their Senate counterparts try to remove Planned Parenthood as a certified Medicaid provider.

“I don’t think that you can do that,” said Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, co-chair of the House-Senate health and human services budget subcommittee. “The reason we’ve never done that before is because the feds say you can’t do that.”

Ragan said her main focus this session will be on the transition to Medicaid managed care and she would wait to see what the governor proposes.

“Getting into the nitty-gritty issues of it this far out probably is not going to be productive,” Ragan said Friday. “When we get back to session and we all get on the same page, we can openly talk about how we’re going to solve any of the issues.”

Angie Remington, public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said her organization has been providing health care and education in Iowa for more than 80 years — providing affordable care to 31,761 women and men in Iowa last year that included exams, contraception, cancer screenings, tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions.

“Gov. Branstad should consider the impact that our preventive health services and education programs have had on reducing rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections in Iowa, as well as increasing access to family planning services like well-woman exams and contraception,” Remington said in a statement.

“There are already federal laws in place to prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion, except in rare cases, and the governor requires those payment requests to be submitted for him to approve personally. The only purpose taking away state funding would serve would be to deny access to critical, preventive health care to Iowans, especially vulnerable populations such as low-income families and individuals, young adults and the elderly,” she added.

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