In her Condition of the State address Tuesday evening, Gov. Kim Reynolds called for more taxpayer money to go toward a program aimed at preventing abortions.
Passed last year, the More Options for Maternal Support bill (MOMs), directed $500,000 in state funding to nonprofit organizations that “have a commitment to promoting healthy pregnancies and childbirth instead of abortion as a fundamental part of the program administrator’s mission.”
Reynolds called for a $2 million investment from this year’s legislative session.
“It sends a powerful message: that a pro-life state is one that surrounds every person involved in a pregnancy—born and unborn, mother and father—with protection, love, and support,” Reynolds said in her address. “Every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy deserves to know she is worthy of this, that she is not alone.”
Nonprofits with those missions are called crisis pregnancy centers. They often masquerade as medical clinics and use misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of abortion procedures to advocate against them. The centers also frequently cause delays in care and put privacy at risk.
Because of that, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said crisis pregnancy centers endanger public health.
Rep. Megan Srinivas (D-Des Moines, who is also a doctor, said she’s talked to patients who have gone to crisis pregnancy centers and she has concerns about giving those entities more money.
“I’ve seen a lot of my own patients come to me afterwards with complete misinformation because they’re not being manned by doctors. They’re not being manned by health care providers that are licensed,” she said.
Because crisis pregnancy centers aren’t staffed by medical professionals, they aren’t bound by patient privacy and confidentiality laws such as HIPAA.
According to Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, there are 43 facilities in Iowa. Birthright is a center with locations in most of Iowa’s big cities including Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City, Burlington, Council Bluffs, and Cedar Rapids.
Many have names with words like “pregnancy resource center” or “women’s center,” and most are religiously affiliated.
Srinivas said she would like to see more information about what the money would be used for. She also said she would like to see the requirements for certification and credentialing if the program is expanded.
“Otherwise, the current crisis centers, I think, are actually a danger,” Srinivas said.
Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, agreed.
“I think that’s very dangerous to allow that kind of misinformation to spread, but not only spread also getting our taxpayer funding,” she said. “The fact that we’re going to dump our state dollars into these kind of for-profit scams is just really sickening for communities that are going to have their health outcomes worsen.”
Stilwell said county health departments and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program are existing resources to provide pregnancy support and prenatal services.
“The goal here is to make sure that those diapers or whatever it may be are available,” she said. “Then let’s fund that existing infrastructure to be able to actually support people in an accessible way versus just essentially flushing the money down the toilet with no accountability to where it’s actually going.”
Abortion rates had been steadily decreasing in Iowa until the state withdrew from federal family planning services in 2017, but they went up again after the decision was in place.
“By trying to take away people’s options, what state’s leadership is doing right now is just worsening health outcomes and making it more difficult for people to access the full range of reproductive health care that they need, which absolutely includes access to safe and legal abortion, but also includes testing and treatment and access to contraceptives and that whole host of care that people need to live healthy and full lives,” Stilwell said.
Additionally, Iowa has a shortage of obstetrics and gynecologists. Data from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows Iowa has the fewest number of OB-GYN specialists per capita in the US. Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 66 lack access to OB-GYN and birth services.
The people who suffer from these defects are most often those who live in rural places, who have less flexibility to travel, and people of color.
“If the goal here is to provide support to people who want to have a child or expand their family, there are many tools that we have to do that,” Stilwell said. “We know what it takes to be able to to support people. And there’s there’s a network to do that. And it is not by putting taxpayer dollars into these sham operations.”
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