Government

Judge rules Iowa law unconstitutional that blocked sex education funding to Planned Parenthood

Law passed in 2019 violates 'right to equal protection under the law,' ruling states

Rita Bettis Austen (left), ACLU of Iowa legal director, and Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood answer reporters'
Rita Bettis Austen (left), ACLU of Iowa legal director, and Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood answer reporters’ questions at a May 15, 2019, news conference about a lawsuit challenging an Iowa law that would have blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds to conduct sex education programs. A district court judge this week ruled the law was unconstitutional and blocked its implementation. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

An Iowa judge has ruled unconstitutional a state law that would have blocked Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from receiving federal money to provide sex education programs to Iowa youth.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Paul Scott on Wednesday ruled the law “has no valid, ‘realistically conceivable’ purpose that serves a legitimate government interest as it is both irrationally overinclusive and under-inclusive.”

“The act violates (Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s) right to equal protection under the law and is therefore unconstitutional,” Scott ruled in issuing a permanent injunction to prevent the law’s implementation.

House File 766, passed in 2019 by the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate, excluded any Iowa organization that “provides or promotes abortion” from receiving federal dollars that support sex education and related services to Iowa youth.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and ACLU of Iowa challenged the law, filing a lawsuit shortly after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law.

Polk County District Court issued a temporary injunction blocking the law, which was to go into effect July 1, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue providing sex education programming throughout the past year.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

Law challenged

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood and ACLU argued that by blocking the abortion provider from the two federal grants — the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) and the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (CAPP) — the law violated protections of free speech, due process and equal protection.

“The decision recognizes that the law blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving grants to provide this programming violated the constitutional requirement of equal protection,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a statement Thursday.

Though Planned Parenthood would be excluded, the law did allow “nonprofit health care delivery systems” to remain eligible for the federal funding, even if they are contracted with or are affiliated with an entity that performs abortions or maintains a facility where abortions are performed.

By doing so, the law effectively singles out Planned Parenthood, but allows other possible grant recipients to provide an array of abortion-related services, according to the court documents.

“The carved-out exception for the ‘nonprofit health care delivery system’ facilities undermines any rationale the State produces of not wanting to be affiliated with or provide funds to organizations that partake in any abortion-related activity,” Scott ruled. .

Programs in Iowa

In fiscal year 2019, Planned Parenthood received about $265,000 through the federal grants, including $85,000 to offer PREP curriculum in Polk, Pottawattamie and Woodbury counties.

It was awarded $182,000 this year to offer CAPP curriculum in Linn County, as well as in Dallas, Des Moines, Jasper, Lee, Polk, Plymouth and Woodbury counties.

The grants are administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Planned Parenthood has provided sex education to students in 31 schools and 12 community-based youth organizations in Iowa using state-approved curriculum since 2005, according to a new release.

The focus has remained “on areas with the highest rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections,” the news release said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“Today’s decision ensures that teens and young adults across Iowa will continue to have access to medically accurate sex education programs, despite the narrow and reckless policies of anti-abortion lawmakers,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, executive director of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.