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Iowa Supreme Court Allows State To Deny Planned Parenthood Sex Ed Funding

John Pemble
IPR file
The state will be allowed to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving government funding for sex education programs under an Iowa Supreme Court opinion issued Wednesday.

The state will be allowed to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving government funding for sex education programs under an Iowa Supreme Court opinion issued Wednesday.

The Iowa Legislature passed a law in the spring of 2019 banning organizations that provide or promote abortions from receiving money through the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program (CAPP) and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

A Polk County district court judge ruled the law was unconstitutional in May 2020. Planned Parenthood has been receiving the grant funding during the past two years while the law couldn’t be enforced.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, disagreed with the district court’s ruling and reversed it.

“Because an abortion provider lacks a freestanding constitutional right to provide abortions, any conditions premised on providing abortions cannot be considered unconstitutional,” the opinion, written by Justice Dana Oxley, reads.

“Today’s ruling was a strong statement in support of the idea that taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion,” Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed the bill into law, said in a statement. “I am proud to be a pro-life governor who will protect all innocent life.”

Planned Parenthood and other organizations have been required to use a sex education curriculum provided by the state when using this grant money, and it does not allow discussion about abortion. Grant recipients were already prohibited from using the funding for abortion-related services.

Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said it’s a disappointing day for young Iowans who have relied on them for sex education.

“Today’s decision is a major setback for public health,” Stoesz said in a statement. “Parents agree that young people need medically accurate information to make healthy decisions that will determine the trajectory of their lives. As Iowa’s largest sex education provider, we are committed to our critical sex education programs, and we are invested in continuing this important work.”

According to Planned Parenthood, they currently provide sex education at more than 30 schools and 15 community-based youth organizations in Iowa.

The programs focus on areas with the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies, and Planned Parenthood is the only provider of these specific sex education programs in a few Iowa counties.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling acknowledges that the grant funding may not be used for abortion-related services or even discussions about abortion and that the state has not accused Planned Parenthood of breaking these rules.

“Even if the programs do not include any discussions about abortion, the goals of promoting abstinence and reducing teenage pregnancy could arguably still be undermined when taught by the entity that performs nearly all abortions in Iowa,” the opinion reads. “The State could also be concerned that using abortion providers to deliver sex education programs to teenage students would create relationships between the abortion provider and the students the State does not wish to foster in light of its policy preference for childbirth over abortion.”

The state is also planning to appeal a district court’s recent ruling that struck down a law mandating a 24-hour abortion waiting period along with an additional medical appointment.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter