In reversal, council approves controversial state family planning change

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A potential stumbling block to a controversial state family planning program was removed Friday, when a state council reversed a vote against the plan.

The Iowa Council on Human Services had voted 4-1 Wednesday to reject rules setting up the new program, which would exclude participation by any health agencies that provide abortions. But council members changed their minds Friday after learning their rejection of the rules would not block the new program but could complicate Iowans’ efforts to use it.

The new family planning program will replace a Medicaid program that distributes birth control to thousands of Iowans with moderate incomes. The new abortion-provider ban will exclude three agencies: Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, UnityPoint Health and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Legislators approved the change in April, and the governor signed it into law. The council, which advises the Iowa Department of Human Services, was asked this week to approve rules for administrators to run it, starting to July 1. Council members declined the request on Wednesday, after raising concerns that the program would limit access to birth control and that it would cost the state precious federal health-care dollars.

On Friday, the council met again by telephone and voted 5-0 to approve the rules, after listening to Assistant Attorney General Gretchen Kraemer explain the implication of their earlier vote. Kraemer said the new program would move ahead on July 1 even without their support, because it had been written into law. But she said a lack of rules implementing the law could lead to confusion and expose Department of Human Services employees to possible legal challenges.

Council members continued to express concerns about the new program on Friday. “I completely disagree with the legislation, but realistically there’s in some ways nothing to vote against here, because the rules have to match the legislation,” said council member Kim Spading, who is a University of Iowa pharmacist.

Council Chairman Mark Anderson, who is a Lutheran minister in Decorah, also switched his vote from no to yes. He said he continues to disagree with the law, because he believes it will restrict access to birth control in rural areas.

“There are some people like me who are adamantly anti-abortion, and therefore adamantly in favor of accessibility to birth control,” he said. The council also voted to send a letter of concern about the new program to legislators who approved it.

All members of the council were appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who opposes abortion and supported the move to withhold family Planning money from Planned Parenthood.

In an interview after the meeting, Anderson said he decided to call for another vote after speaking Wednesday to Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer about the practical effects of Wednesday’s rejection of the proposed rules. Anderson said it was his choice to reconsider the matter after learning that the board’s rejection of the rules wouldn’t block the change but could cause problems for Iowans trying to obtain family planning services.

Critics of the change say it will significantly reduce Iowans’ access to affordable birth-control options. They also note the state will forego $3 million in federal money under the Medicaid program, which doesn’t allow bans on abortion providers from participating in family planning programs.

Supporters of the change say other health agencies will step up to provide birth control options that used to be offered by Planned Parenthood, UnityPoint and the UI Hospitals. State administrators said this week that they will monitor the situation and tell legislators in January what the effect of the change is.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced last month that it will close clinics in Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Bettendorf, Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City because of the loss of Medicaid money. Abortion opponents cheered that news, but Planned Parenthood supporters said the loss of family planning services will likely lead to more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions.
[“Source-ndtv”]