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The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a 2019 law that blocks federal funds from Planned Parenthood to provide young Iowans with sex education curriculum, overturning a district court decision that ruled that law unconstitutional.
With a 6-1 vote from the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the state, the justices said Wednesday it decided the law preventing Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from receiving two federal grants allocated to support sex education and related services to youths does not violate the provider’s equal protection rights.
A previous ruling by a Polk County District Judge, who issued a permanent injunction on the law, has been reversed and remanded, the Supreme Court said Wednesday.
“Today’s ruling was a strong statement in support of the idea that taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion,” Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said in a statement. “I am proud to be a pro-life governor who will protect all innocent life.”
Justice Dana Oxley delivered the majority opinion Wednesday. Justice Brent Appel was the only dissenting opinion.
House File 766, passed by the 2019 Republican-controlled Legislature, excluded any Iowa organization that provides or promotes abortion from two federal grants — the Personal Responsibility Education Program, or PREP, and the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, or CAPP, which aim to reduce pregnancy among teenagers.
These grants are administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The legislation was signed into law by Reynolds in May 2019.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa challenged the 2019 law in Polk County District Court, where Fifth Judicial District Judge Paul Scott ruled the law violated Planned Parenthood’s right to equal protection “and is therefore unconstitutional.” The state had appealed that decision.
The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed with the District Court, stating the law does not violate equal protection rights because the right to obtain an abortion is not affected by this law.
Justice Appel disagreed in his dissent, stating, “the Legislature through unconstitutional conditions in these statutes is trying to accomplish indirectly what it cannot do directly: namely, attack abortion rights. This cannot be permitted.”
The state Supreme Court ruling comes amid a series of legal cases between Planned Parenthood and Reynolds and other abortion opponents in state government.
Most recently, a 6th Judicial Court Judge issued a ruling earlier this month declaring a 2020 law mandating a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion as unconstitutional. The state has announced it intends to appeal that decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Planned Parenthood officials called Wednesday’s ruling a disappointment, saying in a news release it was “a major setback for public health.”
“Parents agree that young people need medically accurate information to make healthy decisions that will determine the trajectory of their lives,” Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in the statement.
“As Iowa’s largest sex education provider, we are committed to our critical sex education programs, and we are invested in continuing this important work.”
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood are reviewing the decision before determining next steps, spokeswoman Sheena Dooley said.
Planned Parenthood has provided sex education to students in dozens of schools and community-based organizations in Iowa since 2005. According to a news release, the organization focused this curriculum in areas “with the highest rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”
The organization had received a $235,367 CAPP grant for fiscal year 2021 to offer curriculum in Linn County as well as Lee, Polk and Woodbury counties. It also received $85,076 in PREP funds to offer that curriculum in Polk, Pottawattamie and Woodbury counties.
“The programming that this law interferes with is crucial to protecting the Iowa teens who rely on Planned Parenthood to provide sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programming in our state,” Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement.
“We believe that the District Court correctly determined that the law violated the constitutional requirement of equal protection by targeting Planned Parenthood to block it from receiving grants to provide this important programming.”
The Family Leader, a Christian conservative group in Iowa that filed a friend-of-the-court brief on this case, applauded the decision in a statement Wednesday.
“Those who make money by performing abortions have an inherent conflict of interest in teaching our children to prevent pregnancy,” Family Leader officials said in a statement.
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