‘Fighting every day’: Planned Parenthood hosts rally at Iowa Capitol

Valley High School Senior Danika Jacobsen speaks at a Planned Parenthood rally at the Iowa Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 29. Photo by Avery Staker/Starting Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

March 1, 2024

Danika Jacobsen, a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines, has not learned much about reproductive health or anatomy in school science classes. Instead, Jacobsen said, she’s mostly taught herself.

“Apparently, anything other than ‘vagina’ is taboo,'” she said Thursday at an Iowa Capitol rally hosted by Planned Parenthood. “Society has fabricated these conversations to be uncomfortable due to stigma, and we can no longer afford to avoid them. People my age are having sex. Pretending like it doesn’t happen is a problem. Instead of preaching abstinence, we need to accept that sexual relationships are normal. We need to teach safety, not fear.”

The rally was organized to protest Iowa Republican bills that chip away at accurate education about reproductive health care, and the ability to access reproductive health care.

Many of the rally speakers spoke about how Iowa falls short when it comes to reproductive rights, whether they be the right to justice for sexual assault victims or the rights of individuals to be in charge of what happens to their bodies. They demanded better from lawmakers.

Ruth Richardson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said now is the moment to do that.

“Those in power are trying to say that these harmful policies are good for Iowa,” Richardson said. “They’re trying to sweep under the rug the lives that will be hurt, and the people who will be put in danger by these dangerous policies. And we are here today to tell them that they are absolutely wrong.”

She talked about how fewer Iowans receive family planning services now and how Iowa’s infant mortality rates have risen. Most of Iowa is a maternal health care desert, and Iowa moms are more likely today to die for pregnancy-related reasons today than they were decades ago.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst and  Sen. Janet Petersen spoke about the bills Iowa Democrats have tried to pass for years—over-the-counter birth control, ensuring access to birth control, expanding Medicaid coverage, and more—only to face barriers and “no” votes from Iowa Republicans.

“We are up here fighting every day for these rights because they’re personal, because they’re important and they’re core to who we are,” Konfrst said.

She said she knows it’s hard to show up over and over for the same issues, but she emphasized how important it is.

“We know we’re the majority, and we’re going to point out every damn time they act like they are the majority because they’re wrong,” Konfrst said. “They are speaking for the special interests. They are speaking for an extreme base. We are speaking for Iowans.”

Those Iowans weren’t shy about how badly they need better.

As a current high school student, Jacobsen said science electives are the only way for students to learn more in-depth information about their reproductive systems or safely navigate relationships. The same goes for birth control methods beyond condoms and the pill.

“I learned how to make the most functional Styrofoam solar system and the most explosive handmade volcano,” Jacobsen said. “Throughout it all, there was no mention of basic anatomy and our reproductive systems. There was no mention of puberty or consent. That seems pretty necessary and widely applicable to me. ”

Jacobsen is a member of Teen Council, a Planned Parenthood youth leadership and sex education program.

Kaibrea Schoning, an Iowa State University student, decided something needed to change about the way reproductive services and conversations work on her campus. She founded an Iowa State chapter of Generation Action, a Planned Parenthood-connected college outreach group that brings college students together to learn about and fight for reproductive rights.

Schoning said because of the group, students at Iowa State have access to free emergency contraception and more comprehensive sexual health resources.

“Our work here today is not just about policies and politics,” she said. “It is about the lives and the futures of millions of people across this country. It is about ensuring that every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, fulfilling life, free from discrimination and oppression.”

Active anti-reproductive freedom legislation:

  • HF 2031 which requires an inaccurate, anti-abortion video about fetal development be shown to students grades 7-12 (12 years old to 18). These videos are created by an anti-abortion group, and this legislation has appeared in multiple states around the country. This bill passed the Iowa House on Wednesday and is up for debate in the Senate.
  • HF 2518 which allows 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • HSB614/SF2095 is a bill that would protect discriminatory actions or deny individual rights based on religious beliefs.
  • 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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