Analysis Politics

Iowa’s GOP Governor Suddenly Supports Expanding Access to Contraception

Ally Boguhn

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who has supported cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, has changed her tune on contraception in her re-election bid.

Iowa under Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has been a leader in chipping away access to reproductive health care. So when Reynolds last week announced her intent to make birth control pills more accessible, some questioned her authenticity.

Reynolds happens to be in the midst of a dead-heat race against a pro-choice Democrat and former Planned Parenthood board member.

“I will be working with the legislature next year to do what Utah did and make birth-control pills available at pharmacies across the state,” she said during a Sioux City debate after noting her anti-choice views, according to the Daily Iowan. Reynolds was referring to a Utah law passed in March but yet to be implemented allowing those seeking some forms of contraceptives to obtain prescriptions from a pharmacist instead of visiting a doctor.

Reynolds elaborated on her position in a follow-up interview this week with the Des Moines Register. “I think this is another opportunity for us to help with access, especially in rural Iowa, and to give more choices when it comes to family planning,” she said. “I think this is the direction we should go. I think by eliminating some of the barriers and making it available through a pharmacist, it will help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

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It’s a potential solution to a problem Reynolds helped create, advocates say. Just last week, the state’s Department of Human Services released data to the Register finding that Iowa’s Family Planning Program (FPP) had from April through June 2018 seen a “73 percent decline” in services covered from those same months the year before during the previous iteration of the FPP program. “The new data also shows the number of patients enrolled in the program has fallen by more than half,” the Register’s report continued.

The decline in enrollment and covered services came after state lawmakers passed a law excluding Planned Parenthood and other health providers that offer abortion care from participating in its family planning program. It was signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R) before he was given a job by the Trump administration, paving the way for Reynolds to step up from her position as lieutenant governor into the state’s top spot. While Reynolds didn’t sign the bill herself, she voiced support for defunding Planned Parenthood and has reportedly continued to back the decision.

“Let’s suspend reality and pretend that Kim Reynolds actually means what she says. The barriers she claims to be addressing are barriers of her own making, caused by her role in defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, state executive director of the Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa PAC, which has endorsed Reynolds’ rival Fred Hubbell in the gubernatorial race. “Iowans deserve access to all methods of birth control—including the most effective, long-term methods such as intrauterine devices and implants, which are not included in this new policy she’s supposedly going to propose. Her political grandstanding also won’t re-establish access to the life-saving clinical breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, STD tests and treatment, HIV tests, sexual assault exams, and other preventive medicine provided by trained, licensed medical providers at Planned Parenthood.”

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll released in February found that the large majority—71 percent—of people wanted the state to resume funding for the health-care provider.

Iowa Democrats have criticized Reynolds, calling her new position on contraception hypocritical. State party leaders on Monday held a press conference on the matter, claiming according to a press release that “Reynolds and Republicans failed to support a similar bill in 2016 sponsored by Senate Democrats that would do the exact same thing,” referring to SF 2222.

Reynolds has a history of opposition to reproductive rights. In May, for example, she signed one of the strictest anti-choice laws in the United States, a fetal “heartbeat” measure banning abortion as early as six weeks—before many know they are pregnant. Later, she praised her work to restrict reproductive rights while speaking at an annual convening of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, telling the crowd that the state had become “No. 1 in the country when it comes to protecting life,” as the Des Moines Register reported.

Prior to her ascension to the governor’s mansion, Reynolds spoke about her potential support for charging doctors who provide abortions with “murder” should the procedure become criminalized. It’s a scenario within the realm of possibility as her administration mounts a challenge to legal abortion through its “heartbeat” bill. Other state-level Republicans have been candid about their hopes that the measure could lead to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

“Well, I think it would be equivalent to murder,” Reynolds said during a 2010 interview with the Carroll Daily Herald Times of the penalties for an illegal abortion.“I would want to research that before I would lay specifically out what the penalties would be.” She continued, “I don’t know if it needs to be the death penalty.”

During a 2017 interview with Iowa Public Radio, Reynolds, when asked about whether she supported a so-called personhood bill, did not directly answer but said that she believes “that life begins at conception.” Such language is often used by anti-choice advocates to demonstrate their support for “personhood” rhetoric, which would ban some forms of contraception along with abortion.

Fred Hubbell, Reynolds’ Democratic opponent, has made his support for and connection to Planned Parenthood clear. In a recent campaign ad, he identified himself as a former chair of the organization and said Planned Parenthood “provided excellent service in our community, including all around the state of Iowa.”

Hubbell’s campaign website identifies “Planned Parenthood” as a component of his health-care platform. “Part of making sure all Iowans have access to quality and affordable health care is ensuring everyone is treated fairly—no matter their gender or economic circumstance,” it says. “Planned Parenthood provides important medical services and education for thousands of Iowans, and as governor, Fred will continue to do everything he can to restore state funding and improve access to quality, affordable health care across the state.”

When asked for reaction to Reynolds’ comments on contraception and whether Hubbell would support such a plan, Remi Yamamoto, communications director for the Hubbell campaign, doubled down on the Democrats’ support for Planned Parenthood. “As the former Chair of Planned Parenthood of Mid-Iowa, Fred absolutely supports expanding access to quality health care, particularly for women,” Yamamoto said in a statement to Rewire.News. “That’s why he would work to restore funding for Planned Parenthood and work to reverse the most extreme anti-women’s health care law signed by Governor Reynolds.”

Reynolds’ office did not respond to an interview request from Rewire.News.

Reynolds and Hubbell are in a tight race. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll of likely voters this month gave Hubbell a small advantage, 43-41.

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