Democrats release reproductive health care legislative goals
Iowa House Democrats’ legislative proposals on reproductive health care access are unlikely to pass this session — but the minority party leaders said Iowans need to know there are people at the Statehouse fighting for their rights.
“We don’t look at the odds and say, ‘Well, it’s not going to pass so we’re not going to talk about it,'” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said Monday at a news conference. “We think it’s important to let Iowans know where we stand, and that we stand with them. So keep the fight. Keep the hope and know that House Democrats are here to keep doing the work.”
Though there hasn’t been much action on abortion in the 2023 legislative session, House Democrats introduced bills on reproductive health care Monday which leaders said would, if passed, ensure abortion and contraceptive rights are not impeded in the future.
In 2022, the U.S. and Iowa supreme courts found neither the state nor federal constitution guarantees a right to abortion. In the months since, some states with Republican majorities have passed further restrictions on abortion or full bans. While Republicans introduced a bill to ban abortion and a bill banning abortion medication, neither advanced passed the first “funnel” deadline.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said her focus would be on challenging the courts to reverse the injunction blocking enforcement of the state’s existing law banning abortion at six weeks.
One component of Democrats’ legislative package is an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing the right to an abortion. Konfrst said it was a response to Republicans’ proposal amending the state constitution specifying it does not guarantee a right to abortion. Lawmakers took the first step toward amending the constitution in 2021, and it could still make it on the 2024 ballot for voter approval if lawmakers bring it up yet this year or in the next session.
The Democrats’ proposed amendment is based on language from a Michigan ballot measure passed in November.
“We know these are proven methods, and we believe that Iowans deserve to know that their constitution exists to grant rights, not to take them away,” Konfrst said.
The abortion bills are at best symbolic this year. Not only are the majority Republicans unlikely to consider legislation protecting abortion access, but the proposals are being introduced more than two weeks after a committee deadline for policy legislation. Konfrst said the bills remain eligible for debate next year.
“We’re beginning the conversation now, we’re letting Iowans know where we stand and we’re ready to introduce it for next session — it will still be introduced for next session’s consideration. As far as everything else, if these bills don’t get picked up, they can always go on budget bills, they can go on other policy bills, the ideas that are the ones that we really want to focus on.”
While Democrats criticized much of the Republicans’ action on reproductive health care, they share a goal with the governor: allowing access to over-the-counter birth control. While House Democrats plan to introduce the measure as a standalone bill, Reynolds’ omnibus health care bill, Senate File 326, included language allowing access to hormonal contraceptives without a prescription.
Though abortion rights and health care advocates praised the birth control provision, many criticized other aspects of the legislation including an increase in funding to “crisis pregnancy centers” through the “More Options for Maternal Support,” or MOMS program.
Konfrst said Democrats’ proposal is a “proactive” step toward confirming over-the-counter birth control access, but said they also would introduce amendments to the governor’s bill during debate on reproductive health care access.
Other components of the legislative package include changes to Medicaid services available for pregnant people and parents. Iowa lawmakers chose not to extend postpartum coverage through Iowa’s Medicaid program in 2022 after the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act allowed states to extend the coverage from 60 days to 12 months until April 2027.
Another proposal would also reverse changes made to Iowa family planning programs covered through Medicaid made in 2017, which excluded abortion providers like Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving funding.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said data shows these changes are needed. Early studies found extending postpartum Medicaid coverage decreased maternal mortality rates, especially in marginalized populations. The Des Moines Register reported the changes to Iowa’s family planning services resulted in a 73% decline in family planning services provided.
“Both of these programs by the way, will bring our tax dollars, our federal tax dollars, back into the state,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “And they will be used to make sure that women and Iowans receive the services that they need and remain healthy.”
The proposals come days after Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable discussion with lawmakers, health care providers and community leaders about reproductive health care in Iowa. Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said they discussed the House’s proposals with the vice president Thursday.
“It was just one piece of the larger conversation about reproductive rights and reproductive freedom and, you know, it reflects what the majority of Iowans wants to see happen and it reflects what the majority of Americans want to see nationally,” James said. “And so we’re excited to be proactively pushing to make sure that we are protecting women’s rights to choose about the healthcare decision she makes in the privacy of her doctor’s office.”
Democratic lawmakers will hold a rally with Planned Parenthood advocates Tuesday at the Capitol rotunda. Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, praised Democrats’ legislative package in a news release Monday.
“It’s empowering to see Iowa lawmakers standing up for the people they serve and working to protect and expand Iowans’ rights and access to health care, including abortion, instead of continuing to burn down what used to be a strong system of access to all reproductive health care,” Stilwell said in a statement.