Senate panel advances governor’s health care bill without over-the-counter birth control provision

By: - February 14, 2023 1:41 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds' original proposal included over-the-counter birth control access, but the language was removed from the Senate legislation discussed Tuesday. (Photo by Getty Images)

A Senate subcommittee advanced a version of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ health care omnibus bill Tuesday that does not include the over-the-counter birth control provision in her original proposal.

Many of the speakers at the Tuesday meeting were registered undecided on the Senate Study Bill 1139, strongly supporting some parts of the bill while taking issue with others. Groups like Planned Parenthood and health care providers like UnityPoint Health, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and the Board of Regents on behalf of Iowa universities’ medical schools said they supported the provisions funding OB-GYN training fellowships and creating two new regional Centers of Excellence, providing needed specialized health care services in rural areas.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate legislation does not include expanded access to hormonal birth control medications. Multiple lobbyists asked for the governor’s proposal to be put back in the bill, but Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, said that over-the-counter contraception legislation could come up in the future.

“I know there are some components that are not in this bill that were in the original bill,” Edler said. “But I also know that there are other pieces in places that those may show up yet.”

Angela Caulk with the Family Planning Council of Iowa cited a Washington University Medical School study that found contraception access reduced unplanned pregnancy and abortions by 62% to 78%.

“I think if our goal really is to cut down on unwanted pregnancies and abortions, expanding that contraception aspect is really important,” Caulk said.

But some of the groups that registered “undecided” on the House bill were in full support of the Senate version because it took out the birth control measure.

Danny Carroll with The Family Leader, a conservative advocacy group, applauded the expanded funding and scope of the More Options for Maternal Support program. Funding for the MOMS program would increase from $500,000 to $2 million, which goes toward nonprofit organizations encouraging alternatives to abortion. In addition to the increased funding, the MOMS program would also include a new fatherhood engagement grant program in an effort to keep fathers involved in their children’s lives after an unplanned pregnancy.

“I appreciate the emphasis on fathers,” Carroll said. “Most of us in this room have benefitted from a father, in my own case, a step-dad. Government … certainly can step in and help.”

Mazie Stilwell with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa asked lawmakers to break the governor’s bill into smaller pieces of legislation. Planned Parenthood supports the OB-GYN and rural health care provisions but opposes the MOMS program expansion.

The program provides funding for “crisis pregnancy centers,” which she said have a history of misrepresenting themselves as legitimate medical providers and telling pregnant women misinformation about abortion. The maternal health centers which could receive funding through this program have no accountability measures, Stilwell said, and do not have any patient confidentiality requirements.

Some programs in the country have been accused of calling a patient’s family if they are considering terminating a pregnancy, she said, or misdiagnosing pregnancies that risk the mother’s life as healthy and viable.

“Anti-abortion centers follow a dangerous and predatory business model that does in fact, violate Iowans privacy and preys on people in their most vulnerable moments,” Stilwell said. “This program funnels taxpayer dollars with no accountability.”

Edler, the subcommittee chair, said he’s happy to support Reynolds’ goals for improving support for health care and parents in Iowa.

“While it’s not the entire bill that she brought over to the Senate, we are pushing forward a priority she is set out in this manner, and we will keep the process going on other components of her bill,” he said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.