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Bird’s pause is a cruel policy
It’s been nearly three weeks since Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird’s office announced it would pause a longtime policy paying for emergency contraception and, in rare cases, abortions for victims of sexual assault. Money to provide those crisis services comes from state’s victim compensation fund, filled with dollars paid in fines and fees in criminal cases.
Bird’s office said the attorney general has “paused” paying claims for these services as she conducts an audit of the fund. But the announcement came as a shock to many Iowans, including victims’ advocates. We see it as an unnecessary and callous move that only adds to the trauma experienced by rape victims. There’s no reason claims had to be cut off during the audit.
Iowa Public Radio reports that 70 sexual assault survivors have yet to be reimbursed. The claims add up to $3,300, including $730 for an abortion.
It shouldn’t take much time to audit these small yet critical expenditures. Instead, it seems clear sexual assault victims in Iowa have become pawns in the politics of abortion rights. Bird has said she is “100 percent” pro-life, following in the footsteps of former U.S. Rep. Steve King, whom Bird served as chief of staff. King opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
The attorney general, who also campaigned last year on a pledge to stand up for crime victims, should reverse course immediately.
But this week, Bird refused to answer reporters’ questions about the pause and the audit. Will this pause become permanent, as we suspect? No comment from the attorney general.
If the state has no intention of covering these costs, Bird should be transparent about the change. This would allow other funding streams to be developed to address this issue. Refusing to answer questions prolongs uncertainty at a time when people need information.
It’s true the state is not required to pay for these services. But former Attorney General Tom Miller instituted the practice, and it was the correct call. Whether you can receive emergency contraception or abortion services in the wake of a sexual assault shouldn’t depend on whether a victim can afford it.
Rather than helping victims of sexual violence, many of them children, Bird’s pause makes their situation worse. It’s unconscionable to throw up barriers to a victim’s recovery just to please a segment of the Republican electorate that adheres to a radical view of abortion rights.
We seriously doubt when Iowans voted to make a change in the Attorney General’s Office this is what they had in mind.
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