Political News

Iowa passes up funds in effort to defund Planned Parenthood

Posted 7:34 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 7:36 p.m. Wednesday

— Gov. Terry Branstad's plan to defund Planned Parenthood would cost Iowa millions of federal dollars that had gone to family planning services, and the state plans to replenish the losses by tapping a fund for vulnerable children, adults and families, his spokesman said Wednesday.

By removing state dollars that go to Planned Parenthood, Iowa will lose about $3 million in Medicaid funding for family planning services. The state pays about $300,000 through a 90 percent to 10 percent match.

Ben Hammes, Branstad's spokesman, said Iowa would make up the difference out of the Social Services Block Grant. The roughly $15 million program gives the state money "to support social services for vulnerable children, adults, and families," according to its website. It includes discretion to spend on family planning services.

That money would be used to create a state-run program that distributes family planning services to organizations that do not perform abortions, though family planning dollars are not used on abortions.

Defunding Planned Parenthood has turned up in other states in recent years, though Republican governors have run into legal challenges by still using Medicaid dollars while attempting to withhold funds for the organization. Not many states have tried to forgo Medicaid money altogether to avoid court challenges, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. In 2011, Texas turned to state dollars instead of Medicaid money for family planning.

It's also possible the issue will become obsolete, since the Republican-controlled Congress has indicated support for changing how Medicaid family planning money is distributed.

But in recent years Iowa hasn't used the money for that, according to documentation published by the Iowa Department of Human Services. It's focused instead on paying for services that includes foster care for children and adults, as well as special services for disabled individuals.

Hammes said there's extra money to accommodate the family planning expenditure and it wouldn't affect other social services, though he said he did not have documentation. He added in an email that DHS, which oversees the grant, "has the cushion to fund a $3.4 million state-run Family Planning program," while maintaining current social services.

Amy McCoy, a DHS spokeswoman, said she did not have an immediate response, but that the department continues to review the governor's budget recommendations.

Senate Republicans introduced legislation on the first day of the session that would require Iowa to opt out of some Medicaid dollars and create a state program that instead distributes its own family planning money.

The GOP bill does not include a price tag, but the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency was informed this week that the Iowa Department of Management would seek about $3.4 million for a new state-run program. David Roeder, director for DOM, confirmed the figure.

This isn't the first time Republicans have proposed opting out of federal money so it could defund Planned Parenthood. In 2016, the GOP-backed House passed legislation establishing a state program at a cost of $3 million. The effort failed when it was sent to the Democratic-controlled Senate, though the chamber switched to Republican control after the Nov. 8 election.

Iowa is facing a shortfall of about $110 million in its current $7.2 billion budget, and it's asked state agencies to make cuts as lawmakers consider a roughly $7.5 billion budget for spending that would begin in July.

Rachel Lopez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, criticized the use of a separate grant.

"In a year when Governor Branstad is proposing millions of dollars in cuts to the state budget, it is simply irresponsible for him to spend millions of dollars on family planning services that are already federally funded," she said in a statement. "He's willing to gouge money from foster care and services for disabled Iowans in a political move that cuts access to family planning while diverting money away from other vital programs."

Branstad referenced defunding Planned Parenthood in his final Condition of the State address before he resigns to become U.S. ambassador to China. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will take over the top job, also supports the state-run program.

Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford and leader of a key budgeting committee, said he had not reviewed the details of Branstad's proposal. He added that Republicans were united on ending state support for Planned Parenthood, and there were ongoing discussions on how exactly to do that.

"The end goal is what's important here," he said.

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