DES MOINES — Democrats expressed skepticism Monday over Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ support for allowing Iowa women to buy birth control without a prescription, calling the proposal an election-driven change by a candidate who senses she has a problem heading into Nov. 6 balloting.
During recent debates with Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell, Reynolds has indicated she thinks contraception should be available to Iowa women through pharmacies and without prescriptions to help expand access, choices and family-planning resources, particularly in rural Iowa.
If she wins election next month to a post she assumed as lieutenant governor in May 2017 when Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, Reynolds has expressed willingness to work with the Legislature to draft a bill that would be modeled after laws in other states allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control over the counter.
However, Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, told a Statehouse news conference Monday that similar legislation was passed by Senate Democrats in 2016. The proposal authorized pharmacists to prescribe and dispense oral contraceptives, but it failed to garner GOP support and was killed by House Republican leaders.
Petersen called it “insulting” to Iowa women that Reynolds was silent on the topic two years ago but now, two weeks from Election Day, is promoting the concept. At the same time, Petersen said, Iowa is seeing a dramatic drop in the use of state family planning services due in part to a GOP-led effort to block state funding to Planned Parenthood clinics.
“While Democrats were pushing legislation to give Iowa women greater access to family planning, we didn’t hear a word from Gov. Reynolds,” Petersen said. “In fact, her former Senate Republican colleagues wondered out loud whether Iowa women might overdose on contraceptive pills if the legislation was signed into law.”
The Senate Democratic leader also accused Reynolds of “hypocrisy” after she signed legislation that has resulted in a 73 percent decrease in state-funded family planning services, including prescriptions for oral contraceptives, to low-income women on Medicaid.
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“Now, all of a sudden, in the final days of the campaign, where recent polls have shown how vulnerable she is because of her disastrous record on Medicaid privatization and women’s health care, Reynolds is suddenly pretending like she cares,” Petersen said. “Iowans know better.”
Jill June, a former Planned Parenthood of the Heartland leader who also attended the Statehouse event Monday, said women’s health and lives are at risk because of the health care changes that have been made in recent years. She said the idea being floated by the governor would pose more problems for women seeking to find the most effective birth control and family planning methods. Earlier this year, Reynolds signed the “heartbeat” bill that many consider the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country — a measure blocked while a legal challenge makes its way through the court process.
After the Democrats’ news conference, the governor’s office issued a statement: “While Gov. Reynolds supports increased access to birth control for adult women, she doesn’t support making birth control available over-the-counter to minors, which is what the Democrats’ approach would have done. But she is hopeful they can find common ground and a bipartisan solution for this important issue next legislative session.”
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