Iowa lawmaker wants looser requirements for fake pregnancy resource clinics

Rep. Jon Dunwell (R-Newton)

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 18, 2024

Rep. Jon Dunwell (R-Newton) introduced a bill Wednesday to loosen requirements for the More Options for Maternal Support (MOMS) program, which would funnel $2 million from Iowa taxpayers to anti-abortion centers in the state.

For two years, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to find a party to manage the program, so it hasn’t done any work yet.

The original bill requires HHS to find an Iowa nonprofit with three years of experience managing a statewide web of multiple anti-abortion centers and, most importantly, be committed to promoting childbirth instead of abortion. The program manager would also need to create the network, maintain records for each anti-abortion center and monitor compliance with terms and conditions.

The initial search gained only one applicant and the bid was rejected.

Dunwell’s bill changes who can manage the program, stating the HHS could manage the program itself and removed the requirement for three years of experience managing multiple clinics from all over the state. Instead, there is no experience required.

According to estimates, Iowa has 42 anti-abortion centers that would be able to apply for money from the MOMS program.

“Rather than dumping more taxpayer dollars into a program clearly destined to fail, Iowa lawmakers ought to be addressing the skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections and maternal mortality, which is disproportionately harming Black and brown Iowans,” said Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, in a press release about Dunwell’s bill.

Anti-abortion centers target pregnant people by posing as health-care clinics while not actually offering health care and not being licensed or bound by privacy laws. Staff routinely lie to people about their pregnancies and have missed serious, life-threatening medical issues.

The main goal of these centers is to deter patients from getting abortions or stall care for long enough a patient is no longer able to get an abortion.

Sometimes they offer parenting programs and even claim to present people with factual resources about pregnancy-related health care, including abortion. But the clinics often lie about the safety and effectiveness of contraceptives and abortion procedures.

Iowa OB-GYNs have been vocal that better sex education, better access to contraceptives, funding for traveling nurses or doulas, and doing more to recruit OB-GYNs would actually improve maternal health care and support mothers in the state.

Accountability

Originally, HHS would also be required to publish on its website the name of the group managing the MOMS program and the criteria for anti-abortion centers applying for it.

Dunwell’s bill eliminates that accountability.

“If anti-abortion politicians are committed to sinking more funding into this program, it should at least come with increased accountability and transparency, not less. Anti-abortion centers are a stain on our state,” Stilwell said.

The MOMS program is modeled after a similar program in Texas that has been plagued by scandals and fraud since it started in 2005. The Texas program now receives more than $100 million a year from Texas taxpayers.

As of September 2023, 18 anti-abortion states have adopted similar programs. Of those states, 16 have pledged to funnel more than $250 million toward anti-abortion centers.

 

 

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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