Guest Columnist

Don't count on courts to protect Iowans' reproductive rights - we must vote

Iowa is barreling toward a world that could be even bleaker than before Roe v. Wade

A notice is posted in the bathroom at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's Quad Cities Health Center in Bettendorf on M
A notice is posted in the bathroom at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s Quad Cities Health Center in Bettendorf on Monday, June 26, 2017. The Quad Cities clinic closed due to state budget cuts targeting family planning facilities that offer abortion services. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Their stories are all different. A pair of new parents in the Quad Cities using two forms of birth control traveled out of state for an abortion after unexpectedly becoming pregnant.

A nurse in Des Moines who helped dozens of women access birth control for the first time recounts several women, a network of clergy in Iowa and nationwide helped. One was a nun who became pregnant after being raped by a priest. Another was a teenage girl with disabilities four months pregnant with her grandfather’s child.

A college student before Roe, one Iowa native recalled taking a friend to a sketchy building to receive an illegal abortion. Her sister thinks back to sitting in the kitchen, the two of them with their mother, talking about the importance of Roe v. Wade as it was happening. It wasn’t something they ever talked about before. For the most part, it wasn’t anything anyone talked about.

Although their stories about life before the U.S. Supreme Court protected abortion rights with its Roe v. Wade decision differ, they come together headed into the election in agreement that more is at stake in this election than ever before.

Iowa is barreling toward a world that could potentially be even bleaker than America’s pre-Roe days. Republican U.S. senators have all but promised a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court with their anticipated vote on Amy Coney Barrett.

If that happens, it’s likely the court will dismantle or completely overturn the federal protections under Roe v. Wade that guarantee a person’s right to access safe and legal abortions, kicking the decision back to the states. And many Iowa politicians have made it clear that providing affordable, high-quality reproductive and sexual health care isn’t a priority, and they think pregnant people can’t be trusted to decide about their own bodies.

Since taking a trifecta of control in 2016, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds swiftly have dismantled a once robust safety net of affordable family planning programs that provided Iowans with birth control, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings and yearly exams.

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Participation in the state program dropped by more than a staggering 90 percent from 2017 to 2018 with nearly 500 fewer attested providers. Almost half of Iowa’s 99 counties have either one or no providers that see patients under the program. And the director of DHS has publicly said she doesn’t know what happened to the approximately $2.7 million in unspent funds legislatively dedicated to the program each year.

Consequences have been swift. Iowa continues to see alarming increases in STIs, especially in areas where Planned Parenthood health centers were forced to close in 2017 after they were defunded from the state family planning program. Even more troubling, counties across the state have discontinued all STI tracking and treatment efforts to free up staff to work on Iowa’s failing COVID-19 response, potentially causing further increases in STIs and long-term health implications.

Additionally, for the first time in decades the abortion rate in Iowa increased last year, by 25 percent. And maternal mortality rates continue to rise. Iowans giving birth today are more likely to die than 30 years ago, despite medical advances.

Our elected leaders have tackled these problems by introducing a staggering 70 anti-abortion bills in the past nine years and taking action on an unprecedented number in the latest legislative session. One of those bills included a state constitutional amendment stripping Iowans of their right to access safe and legal abortions. We also became one of the first states to pass a six-week abortion ban and impose one of the most restrictive waiting periods in the country, both of which were overturned by Iowa courts.

We can no longer count on the courts in Iowa and federally to protect our fundamental rights. The future of our ability to make decisions about our bodies and access critical reproductive health care is at the ballot box. We must vote to elect leaders at all levels of government who will start rebuilding our state’s reproductive health care system and protect Iowans’ fundamental rights for generations to come.

Erin Davison-Rippey is state executive director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa.

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