Staff Columnist

State still blinded by abortion

Iowa laws should aim to provide more family planning access, not less

Panelists listen to responses from Iowa gubernatorial candidates Fred Hubbell, Democrat, and Kim Reynolds, Republican, during the last of three debates on the morning of October 21, 2018 in Davenport, Iowa.
Panelists listen to responses from Iowa gubernatorial candidates Fred Hubbell, Democrat, and Kim Reynolds, Republican, during the last of three debates on the morning of October 21, 2018 in Davenport, Iowa.

There’s a big problem with family planning in Iowa — one that was predicted more than a year ago as the Republican majority set aside federal funding to set up a state-run program that excluded health care providers offering abortion services. The problem exists because none of the changes, or the later processes developed to administer the program had the health and well-being of women as a top priority.

When state lawmakers without any formal health care training are blinded by abortion, and have the ear of the executive branch, this is what happens: Fewer family planning providers, fewer program enrollees, and fewer Iowans accessing the family planning services they need.

According to a report in the Des Moines Register, from April to June of this year the state-run family planning program saw a 73 percent decline in provided services from a year before, when the previous federal-state partnership program was in place.

One year into the new program, according to a report from Iowa Public Radio, the number of people signed up has declined by half, going from more than 8.200 in July 2017 to less than 4,000 now.

I’ve written extensively about the decline in providers and the state’s less-than-accurate provider list. This, like all aspects of the program, can be traced to the state not looking for health care professionals who provided comprehensive services, but to state officials seeking to exclude abortion providers from the pool. For instance, health care professionals were not asked to list what family planning services they provided, but were instead asked to sign an oath that they did not provide abortion services.

As such, one of the state’s largest health care providers, UnityPoint, was completely excluded from the list because some of its affiliated hospitals provided abortion services. Another large provider, Mercy Health, was included, despite the fact that its Catholic roots prohibits distribution of contraception intended to prevent pregnancy.

Beyond that, therapists, cardiologists and a host of other professionals who provide no family planning services were included on the state’s provider list — the database prospective patients are supposed to use to find care in their local community.

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It’s a sham, and a leadership failure, that resulted in the shuttering of four Planned Parenthood clinics and an untold number of small, rural providers. Legislative promises of new or existing providers rushing in to fill the gap haven’t materialized. Meanwhile, STD rates are already rising. Officials aren’t ready to point fingers at the reduction of family planning providers, but acknowledge the highest STD increases are happening in places once served by Planned Parenthood.

None of this shines a happy light on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign. More than 70 percent of Iowans, according to a February 2018 Iowa Poll, want the state to reverse course.

Yet, GOP leadership has allowed only one tweak to the failed program. In May, state officials were directed to develop rules that would allow some UnityPoint locations to rejoin the program.

Reynolds’ latest response to the failure was rolled out during debates. She says she’d like to see birth control pills available over-the-counter, without a prescription. Janet Petersen, who leads Democrats in the Iowa Senate, rightfully notes there was a 2016 bill to do just that, which garnered no support or advocacy from Reynolds. It was soundly rejected by every Republican in the Legislature, some of whom worried women might overdose on contraceptives.

There’s no word yet from right-to-life groups, who view contraception as abortion, nor have any plans been announced to curtail the rise of STDs, or address the myriad other problems within the program Reynolds still supports.

What Iowa needs is leadership that understands women aren’t political pawns to be moved as the next election nears; that women’s health care isn’t a wedge issue to be abused, even if it fires up a certain segment of the GOP base. Iowa needs leadership that understands the starting point of a discussion on family planning is how limited resources can be used to increase access.

Or, to put it more simply, Iowa needs leadership.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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