Iowa women would have more support during their pregnancies and postpartum period under a new bill approved by an Iowa Senate Human Resources subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, but there is a catch.
SSB 3145 would require the department of human services to create a statewide “More Options for Maternal Support” (MOMS) program which would support nonprofits that provide pregnancy support services. However, the nonprofits cannot advocate for or refer women to abortion services.
Nonprofit pregnancy support services are defined in the bill as nonmedical service providers that offer information, counseling, and other support services that encourage women to keep the child or pursue adoption.
Services can include nutrition, housing, employment assistance, adoption education and services, child-care assistance, parenting education and support for up to a year, material items, information about health care benefits, and counseling/mentoring.
Sen. Mark Costello (R-Imogene) said the bill was modeled after a similar program in Texas, called the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which coordinates nonprofits that provide support and counseling for pregnant women. According to reports, one nonprofit funded by the network spent the money on limos and resorts.
Costello said the program is meant to bolster crisis pregnancy centers that specifically work to prevent women from seeking an abortion by providing services such as material donations and counseling. Crisis pregnancy centers are well-known for giving women bad information and lying about abortion and the risks, as well as withholding information about women’s options or stalling until their options are limited where they are.
Costello also said many crisis pregnancy centers are provided by faith-based organizations, but the structure of Iowa’s program is meant to add a barrier between paid services and any faith-based counseling they offer.
Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Connie Ryan asked the barrier be added to the language of the bill.
“We would urge you to prohibit the provider, the program administrator either from being a religious organization or, if they are, a religious organization, put some clear barriers in that so that they cannot distribute religious information to their patients, they can’t require them to participate in religious activities and they can’t discriminate based on religion,” she said. “If we’re going to give tax dollars to a nonprofit then we should not be mixing religion and government so there should be clear delineation in how those dollars can be used.”
The initial allocation to the program would be $2 million.
Planned Parenthood North Central States, which provides services in Iowa, sent a press release about the bill after the hearing.
“It’s politics at its worst, and Iowans deserve better,” said Jamie Burch Elliott of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. “Let’s be clear—crisis pregnancy centers will not improve the health of Iowans. In fact, it’s the opposite. Instead of contracting with deceptive organizations that mislead people and endanger their health, we should support comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care professionals who provide a full range of evidence-based counseling and quality medical care.”
Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) echoed that concern about the program. She wanted more details and specifics about oversight of the program and its nonprofits because she had read reports about the fraud in the Texas program.
Jochum also said this mission of supporting women and their children through pregnancy is a good one, but it doesn’t solve the root of the problem.
“We spend a lot of time in this building talking about abortion and all of those issues but the one issue is this: the real problem is how do we minimize or reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies,” she said. “And we do that through education, contraception and those are probably the two biggest issues rather than wait until all these other issues emerge.”
The legislation would also expand Medicaid coverage for six months of continuous postpartum care.
The main note people who attended the meeting gave was they wanted to see the Medicaid expansion cover 12 months instead of six.
Chaney Yeast of Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines said studies show having that extra coverage makes mothers more likely to get screenings for issues, seek treatment, and use services.
“We know the six- to seven-month mark, there really has been an increase in moms who have sought mental health treatment as well as substance use disorder treatment,” she said. “And when you pair that with what the Iowa Maternal Mortality Review report says, we know that over half the deaths in moms occur within the months and up to a year after actual labor and delivery.”
MaryNelle Trefz of Iowa ACEs 360 echoed some of those numbers. Trefz cited the risk for overdose peaks seven to 12 months postpartum and that women commonly seek mental health services six to 10 months postpartum.
“Now we know that there are preventable pregnancy-related deaths that occur the entire 12 months postpartum and some of the most dangerous ones like eclampsia or a stroke, they might not manifest until months after delivery,” she said.
Iowa ACEs 360 is an organization which studies childhood trauma (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and its impact, and what can be done to resolve and prevent it.
Before advancing the bill, Costello didn’t commit to expanding the Medicaid coverage division, saying six months was a good starting place—as a few speakers acknowledged during the meeting—because he has a budget to keep in mind. But he said he would like to continue having conversations about it.
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