Iowa anti-abortion bills that survived funnel week

AP Photo/Eric Gay

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 16, 2024

Bills requiring teaching children anti-abortion curriculum, pushing the idea of fetal personhood, explicitly disrupting Iowans’ access to health care, and other anti-abortion legislation survived the first legislative funnel to go on for further consideration and potentially make their way into law.

Those bills are:

  • HF 2518 would allow a civil wrong death action for the “wrongful death” of an embryo or fetus at any point in pregnancy, ignoring already existing medical malpractice laws to push “fetal personhood” into state law.
  • SF 2286 would allow almost any health care provider, facility, or insurer to refuse services or coverage for care they do not personally support, while putting extreme procedural hurdles on abortion providers.
  • HF 2031 would require anti-abortion curriculum in schools and require showing students in grades 7-12 (12 years old to 18) a video with false and misleading information about fetal development. These videos are created by an anti-abortion group, and this legislation has appeared in multiple states around the country. It was amended from requiring those videos as early as first grade.
  • HSB 643/SF 2251 is Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to extend postpartum Medicaid to a full year. But it comes with a much lower income cap (215% of the federal poverty line, down from 375%) and would kick many pregnant Iowans off of Medicaid coverage.
  • HF 2267/SF2252 loosens the accountability requirements for the state and third-party contractors for managing the program that funnels taxpayer dollars ($2 million so far) into anti-abortion centers. The program hasn’t started yet because it’s failed to find a manager.
  • HSB 621 makes causing nonconsensual death or serious injury to an unborn “person” a Class A felony. It also gives embryos and fetuses personhood from the moment of fertilization.
  • HSB614/SF2095 is a bill that would protect discriminatory actions or deny individual rights based on religious beliefs.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa held a press conference on Friday to warn about the danger of these bills becoming law. Organizers also highlighted how these bills don’t do anything to improve health care for Iowans in the midst of rising infant and maternal mortality rates.

Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said these bills are evidence of Republican lawmakers turning a blind eye to real health-care problems in the state.

“Iowa is one of four states in the nation to have significant increases in infant mortality rates from 2021 to 2022. At least 34 maternity units have closed since 2000, leaving rural Iowans less likely to access care,” she said.

“Women in 33 of Iowa’s 99 counties live in maternal health care deserts, where care is nonexistent,” Stilwell continued. “Iowa mothers are more likely to die today than 30 years ago, as maternal mortality rates continue to rise, disproportionately impacting Iowa’s communities of color and rural communities.”

Pat Magle Jones, a retired family practice doctor in southern Iowa, talked about her experiences serving rural Iowans and taking care of their reproductive health.

“Rural Iowa is largely made up of health-care deserts, and this did not happen overnight,” she said. “We once had a robust health care system that ensured our access to high-quality care, but that system has been slowly stripped over the past several decades.”

The county hospital she started at when she moved to Iowa provided reproductive health care for all of the residents in the area. However, it closed in 2004 which meant people have had to travel farther for care.

Jones said new laws haven’t fixed that problem but have made the medical landscape scary for doctors and dangerous for patients.

“Doctors in Iowa increasingly are facing medically unnecessary restrictions that tie their hands, putting them in the position of either choosing their medical license or violating their code of ethics, even facing criminal charges for providing necessary care,” she said.

On a similar note, Tori Cunningham, a fourth-year OB-GYN medical student at the University of Iowa, said she loves being an Iowan and that she’s always had a passion for being an OB-GYN.

“I would love to stay and work in Iowa, but I also want to work in a state where access to the full spectrum of reproductive services and high quality, evidence-based care is right for all patients,” she said. “This is a vital component of my ability to have open and honest conversations with future patients.”

Cunningham said if Iowa keeps pursuing anti-abortion policies, the state will continue having trouble attracting and retaining doctors. This will only worsen its already serious maternal care deserts.

“It’s upsetting and disappointing that the unrelenting attempts at the Iowa Legislature to insert politicians into medical exam rooms to force me out of my home state,” Cunningham said. “The politicians proposing these dangerous bills do not have medical expertise. The last place that they belong is in an exam room.”

  • 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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