Senate Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood in Bitter Debate

Feb 2, 2017

After more than two hours of contentious debate, the Iowa Senate has voted to eliminate state funding for health care facilities which provide abortion.    Planned Parenthood is the biggest target of the bill, and its supporters in the Senate waged a vigorous fight.    Republican lawmakers say they have an anti-abortion mandate from Iowa voters.     

The bill throws out the $3 million family planning program which served 12,000 Iowans on Medicaid last year. 

Most of that was federal money.

This bill does not limit a woman's right to seek an abortion

Forty percent of those patients got their pap smears and birth control at Planned Parenthood.   

To serve the same low-income women, the bill creates a new state-funded network of facilities which don’t perform abortions.     

Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) say that balances the needs of the working poor with the conscientious objections of taxpayers.

“This bill does not limit or infringe on a woman’s right to seek an abortion,” Sinclair said.  “Please be clear on that.”   

Sen. Janet Peterson (D-Des Moines)
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

But critics say it’s not clear which health care facilities will provide the services and how it’s going to be paid for once the federal money is turned down.  

Sen. Janet Peterson (D-Des Moines) providers aren’t going to magically fall out of the sky. 

“It will force women to leave a provider they chose and go to a provider chosen by 29 politicians,” Peterson said.  “Twenty-eight Republican men and one Republican woman.”  

Peterson references the entire Senate Republican caucus, which sponsored the bill.

The debate veered into the morality and legality of abortion, with numerous warnings from the presiding officer to stick with the content of the bill.  

Iowans don't support it and doctors are warning us against it

In an exchange with Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines), Sen. Sinclair stressed what her constituents object to.

“That’s the death, the willful killing of an unborn child,” Sinclair said.

“I believe that Roe v. Wade rules that a fetus is a human when it’s viable,” McCoy said.  “I don’t want to go there.

“I appreciate that because it’s not the subject of the bill,” Sinclair said.

“I would say the real focus of this bill is to punish Planned Parenthood because they provide abortions to women seeking abortions,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City).    

When debate turned to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion,  Roe V. Wade, Sen. Sinclair addressed a Democratic senator.     

“The 1973 ruling, I don’t know how old you are but your mom could have chosen for you to not be here,” 

Abortion rights supporter at the Iowa Capitol
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

Sinclair said.   

Reaction from the presiding officer was swift, and Senate President Jack Whitver called Sinclair to the Senate well, or front of the chamber. 

She then apologized for her remark.

Democrats argue that surveys show Iowans support Planned Parenthood by a large margin. 

Sen. Julian Garrett (R-Indianola)  argues the voters’ mandate is on their side

“We also heard from the people of Iowa last November,” Garrett said.  “They up and down the line in most districts elected pro-life candidates.”  

Republicans say momentum is also on their side.   

Sen.  Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) predicts a ban on Planned Parenthood funding will become federal law.  

“This will be good for Iowa to be one step ahead of what is a nationwide trend,” Schleswig said.

Sen. Peterson made one last appeal against the bill.

“Iowans don’t support it and doctors are warning us against it,” Peterson said.  “We should listen to them and reject Senate File 2.

Only Democrats responded.   All 29 Republicans and the Senate’s one Independent member voted for the bill.    It’s expected to pass the House and eventually be signed into law by the governor.