An Iowa Republican likened an abortion “pandemic” to COVID-19 as a bill that would create an abortion state information dashboard passed on Thursday through a legislative subcommittee.
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on a lot of Iowans, and unfortunately we’ve lost a lot of Iowans due to COVID-19. If you go to the state’s website … we have incredible amounts of information,” said Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, who said he authored the bill to create “widespread awareness” about abortion rates.
“But we’re forgetting about a whole segment of Iowans who unfortunately are also losing their lives. And the number of deaths were very similar in 2020 to those of COVID.”
Iowa in 2019 recorded 3,566 abortions, 25% more than the year before, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data provided to the Des Moines Register. The state’s current COVID-19 death rate is 5,549.
Under the bill, health care providers across the state would have to share with the Iowa Department of Public Health data that includes, but isn’t limited to, the following:
- Date of abortion
- Method of abortion used
- Race and ethnicity of the woman
- County of residence or state/country they are from
- The woman’s education level
- Whether the potential father was informed of the abortion
- What kind of information about the procedure and potential harmful complications the woman was provided before the abortion
- Why the woman chose to have an abortion — whether due to rape or incest, economic issues, health risk, doesn’t want a child at the time, the gender of the child, diagnosis of any genetic anomalies, etc.
- How many prior births or abortions the woman has had
- How the abortion was paid for
- Complications with the abortion, whether there was a “born alive” scenario
- Whether the woman took the tissue to perform a “proper burial” for the fetus
IDPH would use the information to create a dashboard not dissimilar to the current COVID-19 ones, which would publish aggregate statewide data including the number of abortions performed during the prior month, the running total of abortions performed in the calendar year, the type of abortion procedure, the age of the unborn child, the age of the woman, the race and ethnicity of the woman, and the number and type of complications resulting from the abortion. An amended version of the bill also would provide county-level data.
The bill also provides a threshold for the state to declare an “abortion pandemic” if there are over 200 abortions recorded in a month. The state would then put out public service announcements to educate people about abortion alternatives, which would last until the monthly number drops under 200.
West Des Moines Democrat Sen. Claire Celsi was the only subcommittee member who opposed the legislation, which passed 2-1 on Thursday on party lines. Celsi questioned if the creation of a dashboard was the most effective way to curb rising abortion rates.
“An abortion epidemic is really not a great description of what’s going on. I would say a spike in abortions after Republicans ended the Iowa family planning network is more accurate,” said Celsi. The state withdrew from a federally funded family planning program in 2017.
“Abortion had been going down in the state of Iowa for ten or more years. In fact, plummeting until Republicans decided to get rid of the very effective Iowa family planning network which took away federal funding and left many thousands of Iowans without access to health care, including birth control.”
Planned Parenthood spokesperson Jamie Burch Elliott said during the subcommittee that IDPH already receives the majority of the information this bill requires about a woman’s abortion from physicians but asked why the state would spend taxpayer dollars to publicize the information through infrastructure like a dashboard.
“If we’re going to invest this much money and time from the department, perhaps taxpayer dollars would be better spent on providing access to birth control and sex education that will help inform Iowans about how their bodies work, how pregnancy happens, and if they’re not planning a pregnancy, how they can prevent it in the future,” Burch Elliott said.
IDPH spokesperson Maddie Wilcox said at the virtual subcommittee meeting that the creation of this dashboard would be expensive and time-consuming. She also raised concerns with the bill’s intent to publicize the county where each abortion was performed. She said that especially in some rural counties, women who received abortions could be easily recognized.
“The Department of Public Health is charged with ensuring the confidentiality of the patient. And so, reporting the county specifically does raise some concerns for us, specifically in rural counties where there are fewer folks who may be receiving these services, that would raise some concern between the age and the county of residence, it could be easily identifiable,” she said.
Chapman dismissed this concern, saying that county information should be shared like it is with COVID-19 numbers.
“I remember the first [COVID] case in Dallas County, and we had no problem reporting that,” he said. “So I guess I’m a little confused as to what the concern would be in reporting that by county unless someone is vocally saying that they had an abortion, I don’t forsee any way that the general public would have any idea as to who would have that abortion.”
Dallas County is Iowa’s tenth-largest county with a population of over 90,000.
Health care providers who refuse to report the information would be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for a second, $3,000 for a third, $10,000 for a fourth and $20,000 for a fifth and each subsequent violation.
by Isabella Murray
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