Abortion

Iowa defunded Planned Parenthood and now four clinics are closing

Four Planned Parenthood health care clinics in Iowa will be forced to close thanks to a new state law that bans health care providers who perform abortions from receiving Medicaid money, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced Thursday.

“These changes are devastating,” reads a statement from Planned Parenthood. “More than 14,000 patients who trust Planned Parenthood with their health care in these communities and in neighboring areas no longer have access to their provider of choice.”

Under federal law, Medicaid beneficiaries are entitled to “free choice of provider,” which means states cannot exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from family planning programs that operate using Medicaid dollars. But last week, Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed a budget bill that gives up millions of dollars of federal funding in favor of a state-operated family planning program that will exclude abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

Employees of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland — which oversees both Iowa and Nebraska — knew this was a possibility months ago, Director of Marketing and Communications Susan Allen told VICE News. They set up a task force that ultimately determined that without Medicaid funds, four of Planned Parenthood’s 12 Iowan clinics would be unable to operate.

It is already illegal to use federal funding to pay for abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or medical emergencies, so Iowa’s change will not technically affect abortion services. Instead, the state is cutting off funding for family planning services such as STI testing and contraception provision.

“There’s absolutely no reason — medical reason or any other logical reason — for this to occur,” Allen told VICE News. “It feels outrageous. It feels unnecessary. It feels like completely politically motivated.”

There are still several questions about how Iowa’s new state-run program will work, said Jodi Tomlonovic, executive director of the Family Planning Council of Iowa. For example, it’s still unclear whether only abortion providers will be excluded, or if health care clinics and groups that are only affiliated with abortion providers could also be kicked out.  

“We’re concerned too that a lot of groups won’t have the capacity to pick up the number of new clients,” Tomlonovic said, adding that thanks to these clinics’ closures, women in some parts of Iowa will have to travel 100 miles or more to get family planning services. Plus, Tomlonovic wondered, “Is it going to take us six weeks to get you in … for what we consider very time-sensitive services?”

Several states have sought to eliminate Planned Parenthood from Medicaid programs, but so far only Texas and Missouri have succeeded. In the process, both states gave up millions of dollars of federal funding and set up their own state-run family planning programs. Texas, the first state to exclude Planned Parenthood, soon saw a spike in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid and a decrease in low-income women’s ability to find contraception.

But just last week, Texas asked the Trump administration to restore its funding. If it succeeds, it could set the stage for Iowa and the many other states have tried to cut Planned Parenthood off from funding to do so without consequences.

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