Governor’s health care bill receives praise, criticism from both sides of abortion debate

Points of contention included over-the-counter birth control and money for crisis pregnancy centers

By: - February 1, 2023 3:48 pm

The governor's proposal for over-the-counter birth control drew praise from abortion-rights groups and criticism from abortion opponents. (Photo by Getty Images)

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate praised aspects of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ omnibus health care bill and criticized other parts Wednesday during an Iowa House subcommittee meeting.

House Study Bill 91, a 44-page bill, rounds up a dozen different policy goals, including expanding support for anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers,” while also allowing over-the-counter access to hormonal birth control medication.

Maggie DeWitte of Pulse Life Advocates, an anti-abortion organization, questioned the bill’s inclusion of birth control access without a doctor’s prescription. “I don’t quite understand why this was put in the bill and (it) generally does not have the support of the pro-life community for several reasons,” she said.

DeWitte argued that hormonal contraceptives are associated with some health risks and can be used as an “abortive” drug.

DeWitte and other anti-abortion advocates praised part of the bill that would expand state grants to organizations that offer alternatives to abortion. Reynolds’ bill would provide $2 million to the “More Options for Maternal Support” or MOMS program, which would also include support for a fatherhood engagement grant program and administration.

Abortion-rights advocates, however, said the state should not be allocating money to crisis pregnancy centers. “We are deeply concerned about this proposal to quadruple the taxpayer investment into anti-abortion centers or crisis pregnancy centers. These unregulated, fake women’s health clinics have a long and documented history of misleading women and misrepresenting themselves as legitimate medical providers,” Mazie Stilwell of Planned Parenthood North Central States said.

Stilwell, however, said the organization supports the part of the bill expanding access to birth control “that we know is very safe and effective.” She urged lawmakers, however, to remove the age limit in the bill of 18 years old for over-the-counter access.

Maternal health care, paid leave

Other, less divisive parts of the bill include providing four state-funded obstetrics and gynecology fellowships a year to address the state’s shortage of OB-GYN practitioners. Recipients of the fellowship would have to commit to practicing in rural or underserved areas in Iowa for at least five years. The bill would appropriate $560,000 for the program.

The bill also would provide four weeks of paid parental leave to state employees for the birth or adoption of a child. No one spoke against that provision Wednesday, but some supporters argued for expanding the leave to six or eight weeks.

The bill also addresses licensing for rural emergency hospitals and provides $1 million for grants aimed at creating regional “centers of excellence” in rural health care. It includes a medical malpractice cap on noneconomic damages, a version of which is already moving as a separate bill. It also would provide property tax breaks for commercial child-care centers, among other provisions.

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, was among speakers at the meeting who questioned the number of different issues contained in the bill. “I share concerns about this being such a large bill. There are so many components to it, some of which I absolutely love and some that I have big concerns about,” she said, adding that some provisions are already advancing as standalone bills.

The bill advanced to the House Health and Human Services Committee but Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, who chairs the committee, said the bill would be broken up and parts would be addressed by other committees.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.