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Iowa Senate bill would fund anti-abortion pregnancy centers and more Medicaid coverage post-childbirth

iowa senate
John Pemble
The Iowa Senate passed a bill Tuesday to fund anti-abortion pregnancy centers and expand health coverage after childbirth.

The Iowa Senate voted Tuesday to give $1 million of state money to anti-abortion pregnancy centers and voted to expand Medicaid coverage for Iowans up to a year after they give birth.

The $1 million would go to a nonprofit to administer payments to centers that counsel people to choose childbirth instead of abortion.

Current law provides 60 days of health insurance coverage through Medicaid after childbirth. The bill passed Tuesdaywould extend that to a year after childbirth, costing the state an additional $5.6 million in the first year.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, called it the More Options for Maternal Support bill, or “MOMS” bill. He said he thought it would get more bipartisan support because he said the bill does not seek to restrict abortion.

“We’re just trying to help make it rare, to help provide women with the support that they need to feel comfortable making that decision to have that baby,” Costello said. “And so I think it makes a step forward.”

Costello said the nonprofits are supposed to work to promote better pregnancy outcomes, improve prenatal nutrition, help parents provide responsible care for their kids, link parents with services that address economic and social needs, and provide adoption services.

He said promoting childbirth instead of abortion is a “fundamental part” of the program.

Democrats said they support extending Medicaid coverage, but they oppose sending money to anti-abortion pregnancy centers.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, pointed to reports about a similar program in Texas that found misuse of state fundingand a lack of information about the program's outcomes.

“Despite the well-documented cases of fraud and mishandling of taxpayer funds, the Texas Pregnancy Care Network keeps asking for and getting millions more from the state legislature of Texas,” Trone Garriott said. “I want to ensure that Iowa taxpayer dollars are truly going to be put to work to support healthy pregnancies and positive outcomes for parents and children.”

Costello said he worked with Iowa health officials to put reporting requirements in the bill that he said would help prevent fraud within the program.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said providing maternal health care in Iowa has been one of her priorities.

“This bill helps provide support and resources so women don’t think that abortion is their only option,” she said.

And Cournoyer said the additional Medicaid coverage will help new mothers who may experience postpartum depression and other health challenges in the year following childbirth.

Democrats proposed an amendmentto take the pregnancy center funding out of the bill and replace it with Medicaid coverage for doula care. Republicans rejected that amendment. Democrats also said the legislature should increase funding for existing state and local evidence-based programs that help pregnant people and promote reproductive health rather than create a new program.

Most Democrats voted against the bill. It passed with a vote of 32 to 16, with two Democrats joining all Republicans present in support of the bill.

Planned Parenthood issued a statement criticizing Senate Republicans for passing the bill.

“Not only is this bill dangerous, but it also puts the health of Iowans, many of whom don’t know about [crisis pregnancy centers’] deceptive practices and lack of actual health care,” said Sheena Dooley, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. “And it diverts taxpayer dollars that could be used to expand affordable, high-quality reproductive health care during a time when Iowa faces multiple health crises.”

The group supports the expansion of Medicaid for benefits up to a year postpartum.

The bill now goes to the Iowa House, where it’s not clear what the prospects are. Asked about the bill last week, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said it might be included in health and human services budget negotiations.

“I’d have to look more into that, to be honest with you,” he said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter