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Iowa AG's office suspends emergency contraception payments for sexual assault victims

The Iowa Attorney General's office said it is review the practice of paying for emergency contraception for sexual assault victims.
Benjamin Moss
The Iowa Attorney General's office said it is review the practice of paying for emergency contraception for sexual assault victims.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and reflect that Walgreens no longer has plans to dispense the drug mifepristone in states where Republican officials have threatened legal action. It does not currently distribute the drug in any of its pharmacies.

Attorney General Brenna Bird’s office said it has suspended payment for emergency contraception for sexual assault victims while they are reviewing state policy.

"While not required by Iowa law, the victim compensation fund has previously paid for Plan B and abortions. As a part of her top-down, bottom-up audit of victim assistance, Attorney General Bird is carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds. Until that review is complete, payment of these pending claims will be delayed," said Alyssa Brouillet, Bird's press secretary, in a statement.

Under Iowa law, the state is required to pay for medical examinations for sexual assault victims.

Iowa code states this is for the purpose of "gathering evidence" and "preventing venereal disease." However, the state said it pays for the exam regardless of whether a victim reports a crime to law enforcement.

The Sexual Abuse Examination Payment program is funded using the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Compensation Program, which covers out-of-pocket expenses for victims of violent crimes.

The fund can pay for things like medical care, lost wages and funeral expenses, according to information on the attorney general's website. It's is made up of criminal fines and penalty fees, not taxpayer dollars, and is a separate fund in the state treasury, as dictated by Iowa law.

Previously, the Sexual Abuse Examination Payment program has funded emergency contraception and abortion.

Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after-pill or by the brand name Plan B, is medication that can be taken up to five days after intercourse to prevent pregnancy. It is different than medication used to induce abortions.

Plan B is available over-the-counter and costs around $50. Generic versions are also available that cost less. Ella, another emergency contraceptive, is available with a prescription.

The attorney general's office did not give a timeline for when it will make a decision on whether the state will continue to fund emergency contraception and abortion under the program.

Planned Parenthood North Central States CEO Ruth Richardson called the move "abhorrent and further demonstrates politicians’ crusade against Iowans’ health and rights."

"Sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have to worry about how they are going to cover the cost of health care after being assaulted. Survivors should be able to get the health care they need, and which survivors have relied on for years," Richardson said, in a statement.

The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault said in a statement that it is urging Bird to continue to use the Crime Victim Compensation Program to pay for emergency contraception.

"Victims of rape and child abuse have an acute need for timely access to health services, including contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy and abortion care. Cost should never be a barrier for rape victims seeking medical care," the statement said.

Bird, a Republican, took office in January after ousting Tom Miller, a Democrat who held the office for nearly 40 years, in last November's election.

She has publicly taken a strong anti-abortion stance, and is defending the state's attempt to reinstate its so-called "fetal heartbeat" law, which bans abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, when it goes before the Iowa Supreme Court for oral arguments next week.

Miller had declined to represent the state in the case.

Bird was one of 20 attorneys general in Republican-led states that signed on to a letter warning pharmacy retail chains Walgreens and CVS that they could face legal consequences if they sell abortion pills in their states.

Last month, Walgreens announced it would not sell abortion pill mifepristone in the states that signed on to the letter.

This included Iowa, where abortion is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter