Iowa Senate Dem bill would guarantee access to birth control

Iowa Senators Zach Wahls, Liz Bennett, and Sarah Trone Garriott. Photos by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 1, 2024

Thousands of Iowans have told Iowa senators that protecting reproductive rights is their biggest issue.

“I see a great deal of concern when I’m out door knocking,” said Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines). “One fellow, he’s a registered Republican and he was so upset about attacks to abortion access. He has three daughters, and that’s really, really important to him.”

With that in mind and amid attacks on birth control across the country and in the state, Iowa Senate Democrats on Monday filed SF 2135, the Right to Contraception Act, a bill to protect Iowans’ right to birth control in law. Trone Garriott alongside fellow Democratic senators Zach Wahls of Coralville and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids introduced the legislation.

The bill says Iowans have the right to obtain and use contraceptives and that health-care providers also have a right to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information about preventing pregnancy. Those rights can’t be infringed by limitations or requirements at any level of government, the bill says.

The bill defines contraceptives as the specific type usedbirth control pill, intra-uterine device, emergency contraceptives, etc.used to prevent pregnancy and contraception as the “action take to prevent pregnancy.”

“Access to birth control is so closely connected to bodily autonomy, to quality of life, to opportunity and freedom,” Trone Garriott said. “It’s just so essential for me as a woman. I know how important that right is, and I want that right to be protected for everyone else.”

Wahls said the clear definitions were especially important because conversations around reproductive rights tend to delve into the weeds.

“One of the things that you often see in this debate is that opponents of reproductive rights like to muddy the waters and use really unclear definitions,” he said. “It’s actually really important that you talk with plain language about what we’re trying to do.”

Republicans have increasingly attacked contraceptive methods, especially the morning-after pill—also known as emergency birth control or by brand name Plan B—by framing them as doing the same thing as abortions, which they don’t.

“It really shouldn’t be up to lawmakers to decide what is contraception and what isn’t,” Trone Garriott said. “So this is based on medical recommendations and making that clear.”

These attacks are the reason the bill lists so many methods of birth control in its definition of contraceptives.

Wahls said the bill does something interesting by highlighting the years of court rulings and declarations about how important birth control access is. He said the senators thought it was important to have those findings documented, in law, to emphasize the importance.

“We want to recognize that this is a right that’s fundamental for every Iowan, and something that we should be protecting in every single level of state government,” he said.

The bill acknowledges that access to birth control is a human right recognized worldwide because it advances “other human rights such as the right to life, liberty, expression, health, work, and education.” The whole first section documents the various court findings that establish the right to birth control.

“It’s also really important to know that Iowans are watching this issue really closely,” Wahls said.

Before the session started, he sent surveys to constituents about the issues they cared most about. Wahls said he had over 1,000 responses and reproductive rights were the number one topic.

Sen. Bennett said she always sees the impact of these fights for reproductive rights in the reactions of older women at rallies and various legislative gatherings and she’s moved by it.

“The women of my mother’s generation, the women who were fighting for these rights in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s, can be seen to be the most visibly moved and emotionally impacted during these debates because so many of those women lost somebody to an unsafe or illegal abortion so they know what the true cost is of banning abortion,” she said.

Trone Garriott said she’s talked to a lot of young women who see the anti-abortion rhetoric as a sign the state doesn’t care about them.

“We need to give them a sign that lawmakers are standing up for their rights,” she said.

The senators said they believe Iowa Republicans recognize how important birth control is to their constituents and their own families, especially because the Senate has passed over-the-counter birth control legislation in the past.

“We don’t know for sure how they’ll react, but I think it’s really clear that if they want to protect access to contraception in Iowa—which some of them at least have said that they do want to do—we’ll have a really clear opportunity to do it,” Wahls said. “And if they choose not to, I think that we can infer pretty clearly from that decision as well.”

  • 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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