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Auditor Rob Sand criticizes AG Brenna Bird’s decision to pause emergency contraception payments


Auditor Rob Sand criticizes AG Brenna Bird’s decision to pause emergency contraception payments

Mar 27, 2024 | 6:06 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
Auditor Rob Sand criticizes AG Brenna Bird’s decision to pause emergency contraception payments
Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said that the state program paying for emergency contraception for sexual assault survivors was being audited, but Iowa Auditor of State Rob Sand said there was no formal auditing process occuring. (Photo illustration via Canva, photos by Jared Strong and Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Auditor Rob Sand said at a news conference Wednesday that Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is “avoiding accountability” for pausing payments for emergency contraceptives and other services for sexual assault victims by characterizing the reason as an audit.

Bird, a Republican who defeated longtime Democratic attorney general Tom Miller in the 2022 election, announced quickly after taking office that she would conduct a “full audit of victim services” and pause payments to certain programs in Iowa, including the Sexual Assault Examination Payment Program. The program used money from the state’s victim compensation fund to pay for emergency contraception and, in rare cases, abortions, for victims of sexual assault and rape.

The AG’s office has not yet released a review of victims’ services more than a year later. On Sunday, the Des Moines Register reported that the report is complete and a draft exists — but that certain staff members say there needs to be more work done on the issue, and that the office was not required to release the draft through a Freedom of Information Act request.

While Bird has repeatedly called the review of victims’ services an “audit,” Sand said in a news conference that there was no audit being conducted of these services by his office or any third party. While there may be an “internal review” happening, the Democratic auditor said this investigation into victims’ services does not follow regular auditing guidelines, nor does it match with common practices for conducting reviews.

Unless there’s a suspicion of “massive fraud,” entities don’t stop operations while an audit or review is in progress, Sand said. “Every city, every county, every school district in the entire state of Iowa gets an audit every year. None of them have ever suspended business while waiting for their audit to get completed. This is a policy decision the attorney general made.”

Sand: Emergency contraception not paid by taxpayers

Sand also noted that the program providing funding for rape and sexual assault victims to access emergency contraception does not use taxpayer dollars — the funds for medicine or medical procedures come from fines collected during criminal convictions.

The state auditor said Bird’s choice to use the term “audit” to refer to the review is a way to shirk responsibility for her choice to pause payments.

“This kind of coverage makes it sound, number one, like there is an audit going on, but number two, like the attorney general is just sort of waiting for someone else to do something,” Sand said. “That is not the situation here. It sounds so innocuous. That’s hogwash. This is her decision on day one to quit paying for emergency contraception for sexual assault survivors.”

Medical providers and response teams working with sexual assault victims have criticized the attorney general’s decision as more than 100 reimbursement claims for these services remain pending. Some local governments, like the Polk County Board of Supervisors, have opted to independently fund contraception and crisis services for victims in the wake of Bird’s announcement.

Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said it was “absolutely deplorable” that sexual assault victims have gone more than a year without state coverage for emergency contraceptives.

“These are vulnerable Iowans who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, instead of facing unnecessary barriers erected by politicians who are hellbent on taking away Iowans’ fundamental rights one policy at a time,” Stilwell said in a statement Wednesday. “These are real people whose lives and futures are affected. We deserve better from the politicians elected to represent us.”

AG’s spokeswoman: Sand is ‘playing politics’

Alyssa Brouillet, communications director for the AG’s office, said in a statement that Sand and Planned Parenthood are “flat wrong,” criticizing the auditor for “playing politics with a critical audit of victim services and blasting misinformation to boost his own profile.” Brouillet said the report will be publicly released once finalized.

“While not required by Iowa law, the victim compensation fund has previously paid for Plan B and abortions,” Brouillet said in a statement. “As a part of her top-down, bottom-up audit of victim assistance, Attorney General Bird is carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds. That audit is ongoing. Until that review is complete, payment of these pending claims will be delayed.”

Bird said in a 2023 Iowa Press interview that she plans to permanently pause reimbursement for these medical services once the audit is completed.

“Those services still remain available under Iowa law to victims,” Bird said in the interview. “It’s just whether public funds will pay for them.”