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Potential debate over abortion funding looms in Iowa Legislature

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

Iowa lawmakers are girding for the potential of another session shutdown laced with battles over public funding of abortion services.

The state budget bill that deals with the politically volatile issue of Medicaid-funded “medically necessary” abortions for low-income women performed at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City likely will trigger renewed scrutiny on that policy, and a new push to prioritize public funds to health care entities in a way that abortion opponents hope will steer money for women’s health and family planning away from agencies like Planned Parenthood.

“I personally have a fair degree of optimism that some babies’ lives will be saved when the dust settles on this bill,” said Chuck Hurley of The Family Leader, a conservative activist group that put out an email message to its members to support an amendment to the fiscal 2013 health and human services budget bill by a group of House Republicans that would “put a stop to your dollars going to abortionists.”

Hurley said his group is trying to counter a “deluge” of emails from Planned Parenthood activists and others opposing amendments filed by Reps. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, and Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, to House File 2435 that would effectively “defund” Planned Parenthood of state tax dollar reimbursement by redirecting money for providing birth control and reproductive health exams to poor women to comprehensive, full-service medical service providers similar to policies adopted in nine other states.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, co-leader of the House-Senate health and human services budget subcommittee, said the 60-member GOP House majority is still discussing the topics. He noted the issue is not directly related to funding for abortions but he said efforts in other states to give preference to hospitals, family practice clinics or other agencies that do not engage in abortion procedures have raised federal funding concerns.

However, the divisions within the Iowa House prompted Democrats who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate on Tuesday to move a different version — Senate Study Bill 3201 – of the HHS budget through the Senate Appropriations Committee that did not address abortion funding provisions that were resolved last session as part of a two-year budget that already has been signed by Gov. Terry Branstad. The committee approved the measure 13-8 and Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, the other subcommittee co-chairman, said the Senate will insist on an open system of providing voluntary service options for low-income women.

“That’s their paranoia. Not ours,” Hatch said of House proposals to restrict family planning and family counseling money as part of a national agenda to defund Planned Parenthood.

Hatch said abortion-related issues have the potential agenda this year to grind legislative work on resolving budget differences to a halt temporarily, but he said an equally formidable hurdle is the roughly $65 million difference between the House’s $1.563 billion spending level versus the Senate’s $1.628 billion fiscal 2013 proposal.

Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the dollar differences are a major hang-up but he added the House likely will also have another debate on abortion funding, which he noted is not unusual. “Every health and human service budget that I’ve been involved with has had a debate on those issues in the House. It’s no surprise. The Republican caucus is a pro-life caucus. It’s an issue of concern,” he said.

Hurley said he hopes House Republicans will stand firm for both good fiscal and social policy to save the lives of babies and women. He also held out hope that pro-life Democrats in the Senate, some who are retiring after this year, will vote their convictions and that Branstad would make good on a 2010 campaign promise Branstad in 2010 to “try to move money away from abortionists in Iowa and supporting a policy that would “defund” Planned Parenthood.

“I think it will come down to how tight of a political grip does Planned Parenthood have with the blood money that they’ve given to Senate Democratic campaigns? That really to me is the bottom line question – how strong is that grip and conversely how strong are Gov. Branstad’s and the House Republicans’ convictions,” Hurley said in an interview.

Jill June, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the changes House Republicans are considering would violate federal law and threaten Medicaid funding for Iowa.

“These short-sighted legislators are willing to rise at least $2.2 billion in federal Medicaid funds to the state of Iowa because of their views against Planned Parenthood,” June said in a statement. “In an effort to force their ideological views into Iowa law, they will take away much-needed health care from thousands of Iowans — including birth control, Pap smears and cancer screenings. For many women, the health care provided by Planned Parenthood is their only affordable option.”

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