Iowa Supreme Court rules the state can block Planned Parenthood sex education programs

By: - June 30, 2021 5:10 pm

The Iowa Judicial Building. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

Iowa lawmakers can prohibit Planned Parenthood from teaching federally funded sex education to students, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers passed a law that would make Planned Parenthood’s sex education services ineligible for two federal grants: the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program through the Iowa Department of Public Health. The law specifies groups that provide abortion services, like Planned Parenthood, could not access the grant funding for sex education programs. 

Planned Parenthood sued the state and won, blocking implementation of the law until Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision. The court ruled that lawmakers may prohibit Planned Parenthood from accessing certain federal grants for sex education, even if the curriculum does not include abortion as a viable option.

“Even if the programs do not include any discussions about abortion, the goals of promoting abstinence and reducing teenage pregnancy could arguably still be undermined when taught by the entity that performs nearly all abortions in Iowa,” Justice Dana Oxley wrote in the majority opinion.

Justice Brent Appel was the sole dissenting opinion in the case. He wrote the law would “impose unconstitutional conditions” on Planned Parenthood and was an attempt to indirectly attack abortion rights.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement: “Today’s ruling was a strong statement in support of the idea that taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion. I am proud to be a pro-life governor who will protect all innocent life.”

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa issued a joint statement following Wednesday’s ruling. Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said the ruling was “disappointing” for Iowans who have relied on the group for sex education. 

“Parents agree that young people need medically accurate information to make healthy decisions that will determine the trajectory of their lives,” Stoesz said. “As Iowa’s largest sex education provider, we are committed to our critical sex education programs, and we are invested in continuing this important work.”

Sheena Dooley, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said the group’s lawyers are working to determine when programs will be affected by the ruling.

“(W)e will be doing everything to keep sex education programs running and available to Iowans,” Dooley wrote. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.