Meet the nonprofit director promoting birth control access in Iowa

provided by Allison Smith

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 29, 2024

Allison Smith’s outlook on birth control access completely changed when Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

“I think around that time there was some really concerning rhetoric,” she said.

At the time, Smith lived in Minneapolis and worked in health care administration at Whitecap Health Advisors.  

“There were major concerns about what [President Trump and the Republicans] were going to do with birth control and whether that was still going to continue to be legal,” Smith said. 

That rhetoric inspired Smith to find a new job working to ensure access to birth control. She moved to Des Moines and got involved with the Family Planning Council of Iowa—today, she’s their executive director.

The Family Planning Council of Iowa is a nonprofit overseeing 13 reproductive health care and family planning clinics that offer their services to anyone in Iowa, regardless of their ability to pay. The money to support the clinics comes from the federal government’s Title X (10) funding.

The clinics also have accessible hours for people who work or go to school. 

The Council also provides free reproductive health care kits to anyone of any age, by walk-in or mail delivery. These kits include two doses of emergency contraception (the day-after birth control pill), condoms, lubricant (critical for reducing tears that can transfer diseases), and an information booklet.

Birth control accessibility, Smith said, has to include unbiased, accurate education about the way bodies and birth control work—along with a basic understanding of what products are available. 

“Our goal is to provide all the information, provide the different options that are available, what some potential benefits and drawbacks might be and connect folks to the provider that can really have the detailed clinical conversations with them,” Smith said.

Online and in person, the Council offers information about every form of contraceptive, from the pill to the patch, injections, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception like the day-after pill.

Information includes how each method works and how long it’s effective. In person, doctors can talk about side effects and answer questions patients have.

This type of accessibility to experts and information is important because the environment for birth control—especially for emergency contraceptives and the pill—has become increasingly hostile.

“[The environment has] definitely changed and continues to change a ton,” Smith said. “Birth control didn’t used to be a partisan issue.”

While there have always been some factions opposed to birth control, Smith said  opposition has become more mainstream in far-right and religious circles. 

“It’s hard to have conversations with folks that don’t see and don’t listen to the science,” Smith said, referring to legislators and right-wing figures who misinform their audiences.

“There’s no question that there are some different side effects or impacts, depending on the kind that you choose,” she said. “You should absolutely talk to a health care provider and somebody you trust about some of those potential side effects. At the same time, pregnancy is a huge impact to folks with a ton of side effects as well.”

In the future, Smith said she’d like to see more access to clinics for smaller communities—potentially in the form of mobile clinics.

“Previously there used to be family planning clinics in a lot more places and a lot more cities and a lot more folks were able to access them,” she said.

Many weren’t open every day, but they were close enough so people could find a way to get to them when they were open. Those clinics have closed, Smith said, mostly because they’re expensive to run and the political environment in those small towns may be more hostile.

There’s no way to overstate how important birth control is for a person’s freedom, Smith said, because pregnancy and childbirth are life-changing.

“It enables people to build their family the way they want to and when they want to. That’s a pretty powerful tool,” she said. “That means you can focus on your education or career. Early in your life, it means you can time your pregnancies and space your births so that both mom and the baby and any future kids are healthy.”

  • 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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