August 3, 2015

Senator Ernst and others introduce bill to cut Planned Parenthood funding

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst took the lead today in introducing a bill that would cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of videos showing leaders in the organization talking about harvesting body parts from aborted babies to be sold.

Ernst was joined at a Washington, D.C. news conference by 7 other Republican Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“The recent footage depicting Planned Parenthood’s role in the harvesting of organs — heart, liver, kidneys — of unborn babies is morally reprehensible and vile,” Ernst says. “The American people, Republicans and Democrats alike, are horrified by the utter lack of compassion shown by Planned Parenthood for these women and their babies.”

Ernst says people in both parties are upset by the videos, including a Democrat candidate for president. “In fact, now Hillary Clinton is calling these Planned Parenthood images ‘disturbing.’ And I agree. These videos are hard for anyone to defend, and hit at the moral fiber of our society,” Ernst says.

Ernst says the bill she is backing will take away federal dollars from Planned Parenthood. “In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, our legislation ensures that federal funding taken from Planned Parenthood will be made available to other entities that provide health services for women,” Ernst says.

She says the bill won’t hurt the availability of health services for women.”I want to make clear that there will be no reduction in overall federal funding to support womens’ health,” according to Ernst. Ernst was asked if the bill would also include state funding.”What we are discussing right now is just that federal legislation, and then how those state dollars, local dollars are handled, is another issue that will have to be addressed later on,” Ernst says.

She was also asked if she is against all research using fetal tissue. “That is a separate issue. What we’re seeing right now is absolutely reprehensible. There are a number of questions that have been raised by these videos,” Ernst says. “I have joined and led 49 other Senators in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking that she take a look at this. We want to make sure that any documents regarding this issue are preserved and that she is doing a thorough investigation. And we will see what the results are after she does that.”

Other Republican Senators who appeared with Ernst are: Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas; Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota; Deb Fischer of Nebraska; Johnny Isakson of Georgia; James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign released this statement from Jill June, the former president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in response to the Republican Senator’s news conference:

“Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are nothing but a callous and political attempt to put ideology ahead of the health and well-being of Iowa women. We’ve seen this movie before. Senator Ernst and other Republican senators should drop their latest attack on Planned Parenthood that provides health care each year to nearly 60,000 patients in Iowa and surrounding states, including in hard to serve rural areas. Hillary Clinton believes health care should be left between a woman and her doctor – full stop. It’s time politicians stop trying to insert themselves in these personal decisions and instead focus on the issues Iowans elected them to solve.”

Senator Ernst leads effort asking for answers on Planned Parenthood videos

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, led a bipartisan group which sent a letter to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services following the release of a second undercover video allegedly showing a Planned Parenthood official talking about selling body parts from aborted babies.

“The goal of this letter was to draw attention to the legal, ethical and policy issues raised by the footage, and call upon Secretary Burwell to cooperate with ongoing and future investigations into these questions,” Ernst says. Ernst talked about the goal of the letter.

“We called on HHS to review the compliance of Planned Parenthood — one of the department grantees — with all relevant and applicable federal statutes, regulations and other requirements,” Ernst says. “I truly find this footage reprehensible, vile, and they truly raise questions that taxpayers deserve answers to.”

Ernst made her comments during her weekly teleconference with reporters. She was asked about a vaccine that reportedly can prevent the avian flu. Ernst says she is in favor of vaccines, but wants to be sure of the consequences of using them. “What we want to make sure is if we are utilizing vaccines to prevent the avian influenza, that our trade partners will still accept any exports that we have in poultry production areas,” Ernst says.

She says there is still not a consensus in the chicken and turkey industries about the use of the vaccines. “We’re going to have to look at this very carefully and those decisions — of course we rely heavily on producers to provide us with information on whether they believe the vaccines are the right way to go,” Ernst says. She says the U.S.D.A. will also provide input on the vaccines as will state ag officials in the areas which have dealt with the outbreak. Iowa was one of the hardest hit states with the avian flu outbreak .


Senator Ernst calls Planned Parenthood video ‘absolutely vile’

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is reacting to an undercover video where a top Planned Parenthood official discusses selling body parts from aborted fetuses. “I think the video is absolutely reprehensible, it’s vile, it brings up a number of concerns, a number of questions, and I do think those questions do need to be explored,” Ernst says.

The Republican from Red Oak says she backs an investigation into the issue. “And I want to emphasize, it is not only Republicans who are outraged by this, I think it is all Americans and I think that we do need to follow up to make sure it was legal activity,” Ernst says. “Regardless, we have to get to the bottom of this and make sure that we are informing as well as protecting our taxpayers.”

Publish reports cite the Planned Parenthood official as saying the abortion provider did not profit from selling the body parts. Ernst says the first step is to determine if there was any illegal activity involved, and she says whether its legal or not, she is still concerned. “But again, I find this video and those acts absolutely vile,”Ernst says.

On another topic, Ernst says she has “very serious concerns” with the Iranian nuclear deal announced by the president. President Obama says the recent U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has put a strain on the military and factors into America’s ability to use a military option with Iran. Ernst, the only female combat veteran serving in the U.S. Senate, does not agree.

“I think that was a stretch on the president’s part, that statement,” Ernst says. “I think Iran is going to continue to do what Iran has done for many years — and that is developing a nuclear program. Which I believe goes beyond any peaceful intent. I do think they are on a path for nuclear armament or nuclear weapons.” Ernst doesn’t believe the agreement solves the problem of Iran developing nuclear arms.

“Iran is going to do what Iran wants to do. What we were hoping through these discussions was to prevent Iran from continuing down that path. This does not do that,” Ernst says. She says the agreement concedes too much to Iran. Ernst says she will take a very close look at the details of the agreement in the 60-day review period.


Governor reviewing telemed abortion ruling before deciding on appeal

Governor Terry Branstad talks with reporters.

Governor Terry Branstad talks with reporters.

Governor Terry Branstad talked today about Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling that allows so-called telemed abortions to continue.

“I was very disappointed in the court decision, and we are going to be reading and reviewing and analyzing that and determining what is the best course of action for us to take,” Branstad says.

Branstad says its’ too early to say if the state will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. “I do respect the fact that the courts are a separate branch of government from the executive branch of government. And I have not had the chance to review this in great detail. But I am disappointed in this decision,” Branstad says.

The Iowa Supreme Court said a rule created by the Board of Medicine requiring a doctor to be present for telemed abortions placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy and was unconstitutional.

The governor made his remarks during his weekly meeting with reporters.


Telemed abortion ruling called ‘major victory’ and ‘devastating’

Suzanna de Baca

Suzanna de Baca of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision today that a rule restricting telemed abortions is unconstitutional provided a dramatic turnaround of emotions from the district court decision that upheld the rule. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland saw the Supreme Court ruling go in its favor.

Suzanna de Baca is the President and CEO of the organization which sued to keep providing the telemed abortions. “Today’s Supreme Court ruling in our view is a major victory for the women of Iowa and for reproductive rights,” de Baca says. She says it is an important win in the overall abortion fight.

“This win is especially significant because the Board of Medicine’s case is part of a very disturbing trend really attacking access to safe and legal abortion for women. And because safe-legal abortion is a constitutional right, we found that trend disturbing,” according to de Bacca. “The fact that we won here says that the Iowa Supreme Court really looked at the evidence, they went beyond any kind of really political motivation and were really thinking about the health of Iowa women.”

Planned Parenthood has done 7,200 telemed abortions since 2008. “The medical evidence that we have certainly suggests, well it shows, that abortion –especially medication abortion — is a very safe procedure. Definitely this ruling I would say proves that in-person or telehealth are equally safe,” de Baca says.

A release sent out by Planned Parenthood says the ruling “sends out a strong and clear message to politicians across the country. Restrictions and bans on abortion are unconstitutional and deeply unpopular, and we will continue to fight them in every state in this country.”

De Baca would only say this about the case’s potential impact outside of Iowa. “Well, it’s difficult to tell what impact the decision will have, because this is very state-specific,” de Baca says. “But it’s a very notable court case, so the decision could certainly hold influence in abortion-related cases around the country.” As for other states, Minnesota has tried some telemed abortion services on a pilot basis and 18 states have passed laws banning the practice.

De Baca says there are no plans at this time to expand on the seven facilities that offer the telemed abortions in Iowa at this time. She was asked about the financial impact to the organization of providing telemed abortions. “I think the one thing that I would say is that we are a nonprofit organization, so our motive is really providing care to our patients –many of whom are low-income or who do not have an ability to pay. So, any claim that we have a profit motive, I think all anyone needs to do is look at our status as a non-profit to really know that that is not top of mind for us,” de Baca says.

Jennifer Bowen

Jennifer Bowen of Iowa Right to Life.

On the other side of the ruling, the Executive Director of Iowa Right to Life, Jennifer Bowen, says they felt the Supreme Court would uphold the ban after winning in the lower court.

“The news was devastating and it did come as a surprise,” Bowen says. “I was hopeful as one of the justices mentioned back in March when they were hearing oral arguments, one of the justices mentioned ‘we are not medical professionals here like the Iowa Board of Medicine, why should we rule against their decision here’?” She went on to say, “Disappointing and devastating would not be an over exaggeration of our feeling today.”

The Supreme Court ruling says telemedicine is being used for many medical procedures now and abortion should not be an exception. Bowen says a telemed abortion is not the same as having a doctor look at your toe, and there are much more serious concerns.

“Some women have lost their lives when they’ve had chemical abortions…and that was when they went into a hospital and other places when they saw a physician. And then when you add the component that these women are not even given the opportunity to meet with a physician at any point unless there is an emergency room visit, there’s huge, significant risks, and that has been well documented,” Bowen says.

She says the ruling is a setback for Iowans. “The decision today in no way safeguarded or protected Iowa women. And for that reason we are just absolutely devastated,” Bowen says. Bowen was asked if this is the final chapter in the fight against telemed abortions.

“It think that there are those who would like us to be done with this issue. But certainly back in 2010 when the then Iowa Board of Medicine ruled against us, we didn’t consider it over and done. We went out and we collected 31,000 signatures on both sides — both pro-lifers and pro-choicers who said ‘I’m not okay with this’ — who maybe didn’t know what webcam abortion was and after they learned, they signed our petition. We are going to keep going out there. We are going to keep going out into the grassroots of Iowa and make sure that Iowans know what is happening.”

Telemed abortions continued while the Supreme Court decided the case.


Iowa Supreme Court overturns rule blocking telemed abortions

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court says so-called telemedicine abortions can continue in the state. The Supreme Court says the rule created by the Iowa Board of Medicine 2013 requiring a doctor to be on hand when women are given drugs to induce an abortion is unconstitutional. The rule effectively prevented Planned Parenthood from using webcams or teleconferencing to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations.

The Board of Medicine said the rule was intended to protect the safety of women. Planned Parenthood sued, saying the rule was politically motivated by the board that was appointed by Governor Terry Branstad who opposes abortion. A Polk County judge upheld the rule and Planned Parenthood appealed.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling says the rule has very limited health benefits and says while undoubtedly everyone would prefer to see a doctor in person every time they have a medical issue, the reality of modern medicine is otherwise.” The court says the telemedicine rule would make it more challenging for many women who wish to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Full ruling: Telemed abortion ruling PDF

 Related stories from Radio Iowa: 

Supreme Court hears arguments on telemed abortion rule

Both sides react to ruling upholding ban on telemed abortions



Iowa House passes bill requiring an ultrasound before an abortion

Joel Fry

Joel Fry

The Republican-led Iowa House has voted to require doctors to offer women seeking an abortion the opportunity to see an ultrasound image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus. The bill passed on a 57-39 vote after several hours of debate today.

“It is my belief that we are defending two lives here, both a mother and a child,” Representative Joel Fry, a Republican from Osceola, said to open the debate. “…It’s my attempt, my desire to bring to the forefront that one that is often not heard.”

Senator Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, opposed the bill.

“I’m tired of the government thinking they need to tell the 1.5 million…Iowa women what to do,” Steckman said.

Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican from Janesville, voted for the bill.

“The woman will have the opportunity to get more full knowledge about the reality of the unborn baby growing inside her,” Salmon said. “Our hope is that with this knowledge she will choose to honor that baby’s right to live.”

Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, argued expanding access to family planning services was a better answer.

“This proposed bill is just another effort by some lawmakers to shame a woman who has made a difficult decision to end her pregnancy,” Mascher said.

Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, said hearing the heartbeat and seeing the sonogram will help the woman make a “fully informed decision.”

“Movement stops. The heartbeat falls silent. The miracle ends,” Holt said. “Those are the consequences of abortion that should be demonstrated.”

Timi Brown-Powers

Timi Brown-Powers

Representative Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo, responded: “We’re not the doctor. We’re not that patient. We don’t even know the circumstances. If a woman is raped, Representative Holt, is that really a miracle?”

Critics say the bill will force physicians to perform a more invasive ultrasound as most abortions occur in the early stages of a pregnancy when a traditional ultrasound image cannot be obtained.

The legislation is unlikely to be debated in the Iowa Senate, where Democrats control a majority of seats.