Iowa lawmakers are met yesterday in an effort to reconcile the 2008 health and human services appropriations bill, a necessary and traditional piece of legislation considered controversial this year because of the implementation of a new fund to address family planning.
The fund, which allocated up to $750,000 before House lawmakers stripped it from the bill and re-allocated the funds to county mental health services Tuesday, was a strategic goal of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa through the Healthy Families project. The money would be used to aid low-income and under-served women in Iowa in obtaining contraceptives and accessing family planning programs that seek to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Reducing and preventing unplanned pregnancy is typically a goal that can be embraced by both political parties serving in Des Moines. When it came to this particular fund, however, Republican lawmakers — at the urging of conservative groups such as Iowa Right to Life — became more focused on Planned Parenthood's proximity to the proposed fund instead of the end goal. Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, offered an amendment that left the appropriated funds, but changed the language so that Planned Parenthood (or any agency offering abortion services) would not be eligible for distributions. In effect, Johnson's failed amendment would have limited the funds to crisis pregnancy centers, the only family planning centers that receive Iowa Right to Life and National Right to Life approval.
"It's so Orwellian to see this project being called a healthy families initiative," Johnson told the Daily Iowan. "… Healthy families is certainly not the way I would characterize anything associated with Planned Parenthood."
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As the appropriation was originally written, a portion of the funds would be available for use by Planned Parenthood. The funds would also be available to many other family planning services throughout the state.
Rep. Ro Foege, D-Mount Vernon, put forth an amendment in the Iowa House of Representatives to dismantle the fund and re-allocate the money to county mental health services.
"I offered that amendment for a number of reasons," Foege said in a telephone interview this morning. "First, [the appropriation for family planning] was new money, and we hadn't really addressed the mental health issue and the county shortfalls. Secondly, for me it was like we hadn't worked hard enough on putting up that new money in a way that could be leveraged. In other words, the question I had was if any of that money could be placed in the Medicaid system for family planning and receive a possible federal match. I wanted to stretch our dollars more, and that question had not been answered.
"The third reason — which is more of a political reason — is that in the Iowa House it would have been turned into a two- or three-hour abortion debate, even though these funds aren't about abortion — that's what this would have become. We were basically able to avoid a lengthy debate when we're trying to shut the place down."
In addition, Foege, who is one of the lawmakers assigned to the conference committee that will reconcile the House and Senate version of the appropriations bill, said he wasn't certain that there were the numbers in the House to ensure passage of the bill if the family planning appropriations remained.
"We could have lost it," he said. "I don't know if we would have had the 51 votes needed. You simply don't take something to the floor without knowing you can win."
Throughout the past few months, Iowans have been bombarded by marketing in relation to this fund. Bulk mailers, paid advertisements and phone banks have been just a few of the ways that Planned Parenthood has both educated the public and pushed supporters to rally around the proposed fund. The marketing plan has been labeled as aggressive by some Democratic lawmakers, but a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said it was a solid marketing push and what was needed in this instance.
"Basically what we were trying to accomplish with this was public education to identify people who agree that there is a need for additional support in this area for low-income women," said Julie Stauch, vice president of governmental affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. "To me, what we did was meet the necessary threshold of what you do in order to get through to people who may not understand this issue, but would support it if they did. We think it was actually what a good program should be. Ask any marketing expert and they will tell you that a certain amount of repetition is needed."
If the fund survives the conference committee, it will be difficult to argue that the marketing campaign, which Foege described as a "political onslaught," was effective.
"It's like [those running the Healthy Families project] hadn't done their homework," Foege said. "… Having said all that, we've sent the message to them, and I anticipate that money will be restored."