The Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling out a petition being pushed by anti-choice lawmakers in the state to remove all exceptions to a ban on public funding for abortions for poor women — yes, even for rape, incest, fetal anomalies and health of the woman.
“The petitioners ask the department to withhold medical coverage from women who have been raped or whose pregnancy has taken a catastrophic turn,” Ben Stone, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa executive director, said in a press release. “It doesn’t get more mean-spirited than that…. It is shockingly callous that these politicians would try to compound the trauma of rape or incest by depriving a woman who becomes pregnant the ability to make the best decision for her circumstances, whether that decision is raising a child, adoption, or abortion.”
“The lack of compassion for a woman who has already been through the trauma of rape or incest is reprehensible. Forcing her to continue a pregnancy as a result of a violent crime simply because she doesn’t have the financial resources to pay for an abortion is cruel,” Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement. “Rape and incest do not discriminate based upon a woman’s financial situation, and our laws shouldn’t either…It is unconscionable that these lawmakers, blinded by their ideological views to ban abortion, would rather jeopardize all of Iowa’s Medicaid funding than reimburse a victim of rape or incest for abortion.”
Iowa politicians attempted to make a ban part of the law during this year’s session — almost bringing the entire legislature to a halt over it — but eventually failed to pass it. Now, they are petitioning the Department of Health by asking for an “emergency” rule change.
According to the ACLU, the state paid for 22 abortions during the last fiscal year.
Arkansas’ SB 134 bans abortion at 12 weeks’ gestation with narrow exceptions in certain cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies. SB 134 was enacted in March 2013 when Republican anti-choice lawmakers in the state legislature overrode the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe (D).
The CRR, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Arkansas filed suit in April 2013 against the ban on behalf of two physicians who provide abortion care in Little Rock. A federal district judge permanently struck down the ban in March 2014, saying the extreme measure would “prevent a woman’s constitutional right to elect to have an abortion before viability.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit permanently blocked the ban in May 2015. Arkansas officials then asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision earlier this fall.
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Attorneys for the State of Arkansas argued at both the trial court and appellate level that even though the law, if enacted, would outlaw nearly all abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, Act 301—which bans abortion at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected, but not before 12 weeks—was not an unconstitutional pre-viability ban. Instead, because of the narrow exceptions within the act, attorneys said the ban was merely a regulation on the abortion procedure.
Attorneys for the State of Arkansas argued that the presence of safe haven laws, which provide parents a window to abandon newborns without criminal penalty, has removed the burden of undue parenthood and should grant states the power to ban abortions before viability.
A three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those arguments, but not because the judges disagreed with the Arkansas attorneys. Rather, the judges felt their hands were tied by Supreme Court precedents like Roe v. Wade and PlannedParenthood v. Casey, which prevent states from banning abortions prior to viability. They used the appellate opinion as a call on the Supreme Court to rethink its abortion rights jurisprudence.
Reproductive rights advocates responded to that call directly in their brief to the Roberts Court.
“Since this Court first recognized constitutional protection for abortion before the point of viability, two generations of Americans have come of age, depending on constitutional protection for their dignity in making reproductive decisions,” the brief notes.
Advocates responded directly to arguments by attorneys for the State of Arkansas that safe haven laws remove the burden of unwanted parenthood and thus give states the power to ban abortion outright, should lawmakers choose.
“Accordingly, even if abortions were prohibited in Arkansas, no pregnant woman would be forced to endure the burdens of ‘additional offspring’ and ‘a distressful life and future[,]’ or mental and physical health ‘taxed by child care[,]’ or general distress associated with an ‘unwanted child,’ or ‘the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it,'” attorneys for the State of Arkansas argued in their petition to the Roberts Court. “The safe haven statute completely eliminates the pregnant woman’s burden of parenthood.”
Should the Roberts Court accept the argument that safe haven laws grant states the power to outlaw abortion, advocates from CRR and the ACLU argued anti-choice lawmakers will not stop at simply banning abortion.
“Such laws cannot redeem an unconstitutional ban on pre-viability abortions any more than laws allowing a woman to place her infant for adoption,” reproductive rights advocates argued. “[W]ere Petitioners correct that a woman has no constitutional right to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and that any prejudice she may suffer is wholly ‘remedie[d]’ by laws that allow her to avoid unwanted parenthood, then the constitutional right to contraception would be in grave doubt.”
The Roberts Court has not scheduled the Arkansas or North Dakota cases for conference, nor decided whether it will take up either challenge. Appellate court decisions blocking those laws from taking effect would remain in effect should the Supreme Court refuse to hear the cases.
The practice of telemedicine abortion has long been seen as a way to greatly expand access to safe, legal abortion, especially in rural areas where providers are scarce and restrictions many. Anti-choice activists have been eager to ban the process in as many states as they can. One state where they haven’t been successful is Iowa, the birthplace of telemed abortion. Now, since abortion opponents have been blocked from banning telemed abortion via the state legislature, they are targeting the state medical board.
According to the WFC Courier, Iowa Right to Life is spearheading an effort to demand that the Iowa Board of Medicine “stop webcam abortions,” presenting what they say is 20,000 signatures from medical professionals who believe patients “deserve better care than what amounts to an impersonal, subpar, and dangerous system like webcam abortion.”
However, it is inaccurate to call the system either subpar or dangerous. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at the effects of introducing telemed abortion in Iowa, which began in 2008. It showed that not only is the practice safe, it also decreases the number of people obtaining abortions in the second trimester. The study reported a “high rate of satisfaction and low rate of complications.”
This would not be the first time that a group has asked the state medical board to rule telemed abortions too dangerous or a violation of medical standards, and the argument against the practiced has remained the same. The charge—that a video conversation with a doctor is not the same as being in his or her physical presence when the abortion pill is ingested—was leveled at the board by anti-choice terrorist group Operation Rescue back in 2010. What has changed since then is the make-up of the board. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad added a Catholic priest who opposes telemed abortions to the medical board in 2012. This was after the senate rejected his first medical board nominee, Colleen Pasnik, also who actively lobbied with Operation Rescue in an attempt to end telemed abortion.
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