The Iowa state legislature passed an unusual abortion bill this year, requiring Gov. Terry Brandstad to sign off on payments for publicly funded abortions. Seven months later, the pro-life governor has approved no procedures — but patients have been reimbursed by Medicaid anyway.
The Associated Press reported from Des Moines that the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the site of most Medicaid-funded abortions, just didn’t bill the state for the 15 abortions it performed since the rule was passed.
The law was the only one to make it through a divided legislature during the last session, with Republicans dominating the House and Democrats controlling the Senate. Republicans favored the added oversight, while Democrats emphasized that women would not have to seek approval for abortions ahead of time, but only to be reimbursed.
While abortion access hasn’t decreased in actuality, pro-life advocates see the bill and its practice as underhanded.
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"At its heart it's very deceitful. The governor gets to say he never approved any Medicaid payments because no one ever asked him to. He's never presented with the bill," said Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
Federal law requires states to cover abortions in extreme circumstances, such as rape, incest, and when the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life. Iowa’s state guidelines also extend to certain cases of fetal deformity.
Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute for Reproductive Rights, told the Chronicle that healthcare providers shouldn't have to evade reimbursement.
"Certainly this idea that a provider doesn't seek out a reimbursement is troubling. It's troubling because this is a medical procedure that is legal and covered under some very limited circumstances but still is covered and should be treated as any other medical service," Nash said.
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Another unusual abortion bill is currently up for debate in the Iowa House, one that creates a legal justification for women to sue their doctors if they experience “emotional distress” following an abortion.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland policy analyst and lobbyist Erin Davison-Rippey called that bill “yet another attempt to intimidate providers of a safe and legal procedure.”