Iowa Dems introduce slew of bills to protect Iowan’s reproductive freedom

Democratic senators at the bill announcement press conference

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 30, 2024

After years of attacks on reproductive freedom, Iowa Senate Democrats are challenging the extremism by introducing bills to honor Iowan’s wishes and protect reproductive healthcare rights.

In a Tuesday press conference, Senate Democrats announced a package of bills similar to a suite of bill introduced by Iowa House Democrats in March 2023. Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) said Democrats will continue talking to Iowa Republicans to pass the bills, especially since some Republicans have said they support family planning services and better access to birth control.

“These measures have unanimous support within our caucus and are favored by a strong majority of Iowans,” Jochum said. “They are simply the right thing to do. Reproductive freedom is the foundation for strong families and allows all Iowans to plan for their futures and live the lives they want.”

Constitutional amendment

The centerpiece bill is an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that’s modeled after successful language that passed in Michigan. Of the package, it has the least likelihood of being taken up by Republicans.

It says: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom and an individual’s most private decisions concerning reproductive freedom shall not be infringed.”

Reproductive freedom includes: “the right to prenatal and childbirth care, postpartum care, contraception, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.” Restrictions imposed by the state would be subject to strict scrutiny by the courts, which is the highest constitutional standard.

“The majority of Iowans believe the power over our bodies does not belong with politicians,” said Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines). “We know one-size-fits-all laws and restrictions don’t work when Iowans are making difficult, complicated and personal medical decisions.”

To become law, the amendment would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the Iowa General Assembly, and then the language would appear on the ballot for Iowa voters to have the final say.

“The constitutional amendment is about letting the people decide this issue,” said Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines). “The majority of voters want safe abortion access in our state protected, and we’re seeing lawmakers push forward these very extreme measures that don’t connect with what the people are asking for. We need to let the people have a voice in this process.”

Over-the-counter birth control

Another bill would champion over-the-counter birth control, which would allow pharmacists to order and dispense birth control. Those seeking it wouldn’t need a prescription, which would mean expanded access to birth control, especially for people in rural areas.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has supported this idea in the past, but her proposal last year didn’t move. A different bill for over-the-counter birth control passed the Senate last year but never moved in the House.

Trone Garriott said she knows this is an idea some Republicans support because they proposed and commented on their own over-the-counter birth control amendments and she wants to work with them to make it happen for Iowans.

“We know that’s important for a lot of voters in their districts as well, across party lines,” she said. “We’re giving an opportunity to work together to really show that we affirm these freedoms and we affirm this access. We want Iowans to have this very important opportunity.”

Reinstate family planning

This bill would reinstate the previous State Family Planning program.

In 2017, Iowa Republicans defunded the program in favor of a state-run model, and use of the state-run program has dropped almost 90% since the change.

“We have STIs on the rise. We have abortions on the rise, which is the exact opposite of what they thought they would do,” said Sen. Molly Donahue (D-Cedar Rapids).

She said the purpose of the bill is to make sure more people have easier access to family planning services such as birth control and testing.

The previous program was a federally funded family planning service and the move was intended to prevent Planned Parenthood from getting money for their family planning services.

Extend postpartum Medicaid coverage

Evidence shows mothers who have Medicaid coverage throughout their pregnancies and for a year after birth have fewer health issues. Current Iowa law only requires that coverage for 60 days postpartum.

This bill expands the coverage to 12 months, which also aligns with federal requirements, ensuring all eligible Iowans can access postpartum care.

The bill also expands eligibility for the program.

In her Condition of the State address this year, Reynolds proposed 12-month Medicaid coverage, but Sen. Petersen pointed out Reynolds’ proposal cuts eligibility while the Democrats’ plan expands it.

“They have not yet released the numbers, but we believe that would cut thousands of women off of pregnancy care, and we believe we should be expanding care, not contracting,” Petersen said.

  • 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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