Commentary Law and Policy

Iowa Legislators, Vying for “Most Mean-Spirited”, Seek to Strip Funds for Abortion Care for Rape, Incest, Fetal Anomalies

Morgan Meneses-Sheets

It was announced last week that Iowa House members are pushing emergency rulemaking for the state Department of Human Services to halt medical coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest, or severe physical or mental fetal deformities. It just doesn’t get more mean-spirited, out of touch and just plain awful than that. 

Whether it is forced ultrasounds in Virginia, a Wisconsin bill implying that being a single parent means you are abusive, stripping LGBT people and immigrants out of the Violence Against Women Act, or the fact that you can’t even say vagina in Michigan without being scolded and punished, it seems like every time we turn around there is an even more ridiculous, insulting, and dangerous attack on women. 

But believe it or not 41 Republican lawmakers in Iowa have actually found a way to take it even further. It was announced last week that Iowa House members are pushing emergency rule-making for the state Department of Human Services to halt medical coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest, or severe physical or mental fetal deformities. It just doesn’t get more mean-spirited, out of touch, and just plain awful than that. 

Seriously, is there a competition to see who can hurt women the most? A rape victim who wants to end her pregnancy doesn’t need the added burden of trying to scrape together funds because her insurance won’t cover it. We can do more for those who are raped or victims of incest.

Same goes for women who have to make the decision whether to end a pregnancy due to fetal anomaly. Women themselves tell us that this can be a gut-wrenching decision. It is only fair that a woman experiencing pregnancy complications should be able to consider all options. A ban on coverage only makes it harder for a woman who is in already difficult circumstances. We should be supporting these women, not making abortion harder to get or more dangerous.    

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Current law already imposes unfair restrictions on abortion coverage. Since the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, millions of women have been left without coverage for the care they need just because they have government-funded health insurance. Medical coverage for abortion care is withheld from women enrolled in Medicaid or the military, federal employees, women with disabilities in the Medicare program, Peace Corp volunteers, women in federal prisons, and women who receive coverage under Indian Health Services. Many women have to delay getting the care they need because their insurance does not cover a legal medical procedure. Other women and their families are pushed into greater poverty as they struggle to scrape together the funds to secure medical care.

Now politicians in Iowa want to make this worse by targeting rape and incest victims and flouting federal law that rightly requires Medicaid funds to cover abortion at least in these cases. They are even willing to lose money to do it. If they choose not to comply they will risk their Medicaid funding  – anywhere from $4 million to $2 billion depending on who you talk to – dollars meant to help provide much needed care to low-income Iowans. 

A woman and her doctor should be able to make health decisions based on what is best for her, not based on what she can afford.  Even if a woman gets her insurance from a government source, she should be covered for a full range of legal medical procedures, including abortion. Once again, our elected officials are meddling in a woman’s private health decisions, but this time in an even crueler fashion than usual.  This is at the same time that we are hearing about sexual assault survivors in Oklahoma and Florida who were denied access to emergency contraception because it was against someone else’s conscience.  Haven’t these people heard of compassionate care for survivors?!

Real women get hurt by this political game playing. Even if some of us feel conflicted about abortion, it is unfair to restrict insurance coverage, or try to influence a woman’s decision about whether to end a pregnancy, just because she is enrolled in Medicaid. A woman should be able to make important life decisions based on what is best for her unique circumstances. Let’s respect and support a woman who is facing the life-altering decision of whether or not to have a child.

Join me in urging the Obama administration to resist these attacks on women and enforce federal law.  Let’s make sure that survivors of rape and incest and pregnant women dealing with a fetal anomaly in Iowa are treated with respect and compassion and provided access to the medical care they need, including abortion care.  It is an important first step towards ensuring that all women have coverage for a full range of pregnancy-related medical care, including abortion care, whether their insurance is individual, through an employer, or through a government program.  

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.