May 23, 2015

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.

Supreme Court hears arguments on telemed abortion rule (audio)

Alice Clapman presents Planned Parenthood's case.

Alice Clapman presents Planned Parenthood’s case.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments today over a rule created by the Iowa Board of Medicine that requires a doctor to be on hand when women are given drugs to induce an abortion. The rule effectively prevents the use of using webcams or teleconferencing to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations. A district court ruling upheld the rule.

Planned Parenthood sued seeking to overturn the rule saying it is unconstitutional, and attorney Alice Clapman argued the rule creates several problems for women. “The health risks from a delayed abortion, the loss of autonomy that comes from being denied your only non-surgical abortion alternative, and being forced into an alternative between surgery or carrying your pregnancy to term,” Clapman says.

She was asked if this is simply an issue of cost for the women. “No, because the reality of these womens’ lives is they’re going to be delayed and medication abortion is only available in an extremely narrow window,” Clapman says. “To put this in context, it’s the first seven weeks of pregnancy measure from before pregnancy starts — measured from the last menstrual period. Most women when they discover they are pregnant have a few weeks at most in which they can have a medication abortion.”

Clapman was asked about the safety concerns of the telemed procedure. “Of the 7,000 patients who’ve had this service, there’s no evidence of any safety issues that have resulted. More importantly, this has actually improved public health and patient safety because it’s allowed women to have abortions earlier in their pregnancy when they are safer,” according to Clapman. Clapman says requiring a physician to see a woman before they can get the abortion pills is an undue burden on the women.

“The new telemedicine rules that we’ve directed this court’s attention to do not impose the standard on any other form of health care, even though it is clear that abortion is relatively safe and there are other forms of care that are being provided through telemedicine in Iowa that are equally or more risky,” Clapman explains.

Jefferey Thompson

Jefferey Thompson

Attorney Jeffery Thompson argued for the Iowa Board of Medicine. Thompson says the board was seeking to ensure the abortion pills are used safely and correctly. “What our board of medicine did was agree with you that there needs to be a standard of care decision, frankly in the face of prior complaint for discipline against somebody that alleged they weren’t following the standard of care,” Thompson says. “And they promulgated a standard of care that focused on safety and tried to resolve these questions, this uncertainty of safety, in favor of the woman.”

Thompson says Planned Parenthood’s own study goes against the claim that limiting telemedicine abortions keeps women from getting the abortions that want them. “They studied two years before they started telemed and two years after, and what it shows is there was no huge unmet need, number one. Patients didn’t drive shorter distances, number two. And in general, it had not real impact,” according to Thompson.

Justice David Wiggins questioned Thompson about the safety findings in the study. “And the study also shows, does it not, that the result of complications –whether by telemedicine or whether not by telemedicine — were exactly the same,” Wiggins asked. “They weren’t worse, but they weren’t better,” Thompson responded.

Thompson summed up his arguments by saying the Board of Medicine set up the rule to ensure the safety of the women who use the drug. “The role of standards of care and legislation is to resolve uncertainty. And that’s what this standard of care does, it’s necessary,” Thompson says. “You may not agree with it, I may not agree with it frankly, but it is within the Board of Medicine to do this, and it is absolutely constitutional.”

Telemedicine abortions are continuing until the Supreme Court rules on the issue. It is not know how long it will take for the ruling.

Audio: Supreme Court oral arguments on telemed abortions. 45:16

Bill requires doctors to offer to show, describe ultrasound to women seeking an abortion

Norm Pawlewski

Norm Pawlewski

A bill that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and offer to both show and describe the image to a woman seeking an abortion has cleared a subcommittee in the Iowa House. Norm Pawlewski, a lobbyist for the Iowa Right to Life Committee and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, is the former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. He calls it a “health care bill.”

“It not only protects the mother, but it protects the physician as well,” Pawlewski says, “makes sure that what they’re doing is appropriate for the age of the gestation of the child.”

Tom Chapman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Catholic Conference, says it will help a woman make an “informed” decision about an abortion.

“If there are bad actors who are not doing this sort of procedure before an abortion, I think this bill would help with that,” Chapman says.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, says performing an ultrasound is already standard practice for doctors, but having legislators dictate the conversation a doctor has with a patient is a step too far.

“It feels like an effort to shame a woman who has made a decision to end her pregnancy,” Davison-Rippey says. “This bill sends the message that we don’t trust a woman to make decisions about her health care and that we don’t trust a physician to provide appropriate information.”

If the bill becomes law, doctors who fail to offer to show and describe the ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames, says it’s “dangerous” for legislators to set that kind of precedent.

“This is moving us backwards to believing that women don’t understand what happens when they become pregnant,” she says. “…This is shaming and it’s demeaning.”

Joel Fry

Joel Fry

Representative Joel Fry, a Republican from Osceola, says a doctor is seeing “two patients” when a pregnant woman is in his office.

“I believe that child has, needs, deserves to have the opportunity to also have a voice in this medical arena,” Fry says.

The bill has a strong chance of passing the Republican-led House this year, but it’s unlikely to become law. Democrats control the debate agenda in the Iowa Senate and the bill is not likely to be considered there.

Group warns sex ed website now advertises porn

An Iowa pro-life group is issuing a warning about a website that once offered sex education information to parents and schools but which now directs computer users to pornography. Jennifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, says the website “teenwire-dot-com” had been run by Planned Parenthood but now advertises teen escorts, online sex and other X-rated content.

“We are very concerned for students in Iowa as well as nationally, anybody that uses any curriculum that advises from Planned Parenthood or from the Ellen Guttmacher Institute is very likely using curriculum that points teens to that website,,” Bowen says. Any outdated literature distributed to schools in the past few years, she says, still directs people to that website.

Bowen says her organization mobilized and contacted every school district in Iowa to give them a heads up about the website’s change. “Unfortunately, we only heard back from one and they were not inclined to believe that we were telling the truth,” Bowen says. “We are very concerned about the lack of response that we’ve had from the school districts.”

Bowen says the website, when run by Planned Parenthood, had used an Etch-A-Sketch in some of its videos months ago, so Iowa Right to Life contacted the makers of the toy in an effort to have the site shut down. “At that time, came down for a period of time,” Bowen says. “It went back briefly but then, apparently it came back down again at some point in the last year or two. Unbeknownst to us, it went right into the hands of the porn industry.”

Bowen says she’s been told the website is operating within the law so it won’t be forced to go dark.

By Karla James


Both sides react to ruling upholding ban on telemed abortions

A Polk County judge has ruled the Iowa Board of Medicine has the authority to create a rule that bans the procedure where a doctor sees a patient via a video link and gives them medication to induce an abortion. The board voted 8-2 in August of last year to require a physician see the patient in person before giving her the medication — citing concerns about safety.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland went to court try to overturn the rule, saying the vote was politically motivated and would adversely impact women seeking to get an abortion. Planned Parenthood interim CEO, Penny Dickey, talked to Radio Iowa about the ruling. “I am actually shocked and very disappointed that judge (Jeffrey) Ferrell ruled in this way. I had expected that it would be a different outcome,” Dickey says.

Dickey says the ruling, if it stands, would limit access to abortions. “It’s really unfortunate that he chose to make access to a safe, constitutionally-protected procedure in medication abortion less safe and less accessible to women who are seeking pregnancy termination,” according to Dickey.

A previous Polk County ruling allowed the telemed abortions to continue while the issue works through the court. Ferrell’s ruling today would lift the stay in 30 days pending an appeal. “We do have 30 days to file and appeal, and that if definitely our intent,” Dickey says. “And until that time, we will continue providing telemedicine, medication abortion services to women in the state.”

Dickey says they have nine locations that are now providing telemed abortions. She says the use telemedicine is expanding in almost every other case, and lawmakers and others trying to do what they can to help that expansion. “In this one particular instance is when the lawmakers, and the Board of Medicine and now obviously the judge, have decided that it is unsafe,” Dickey says. “We’ve done more than 6,000 telemedicine procedures in the state. We’ve had a high satisfaction rate with our patients. And a very successful program as it relates to providing safe medical care to women throughout the state.

Iowa Right to Life pushed to end telemed abortions and the group’s executive director Jenifer Bowen says they anticipated the ruling would go in their favor.

“We knew that this day would come because since 2008 when we first learned about this horrific plan, we have been trying to get the word out that not only unborn children were at risk, but also women who would never see a doctor and have these abortions. We knew they were at grave risk,” Bowen says. “We are very pleased to see that judge Ferrell has ruled in favor of the safety of Iowa women.”

She says this ruling is a victory, but also knows it doesn’t end the court battle. “Nothing in Iowa is every easy in this abortion fight, and so yes, we are fully anticipating the plaintiffs will appeal the decision and we are prepared for that to happen,” according to Bowen.

Bowen says the judge found the safety issue of seeing a doctor in person to be a legitimate concern. “You know often times we’re cast into a category of ‘well you only care about the baby’ or ‘you only care about saving the baby’s life,’ and …that’s never been the case. We care about the mother just as much as we do the child,” Bowen says. “And this was an opportunity to really put actions behind those words, because we were just as concerned, if not more concerned for the safety of these women.”

Bowen says Iowa Right to Life stood alone for many years in trying to point out the dangers in the procedures to women. “Planned Parenthood said for many, many years that there was not a single complication, all the while we knew they were logging in complication after complication on these abortions. We knew of gruesome stories of women who were left to deal with the dead body of their baby alone and returned to Planned Parenthood,” Bowen says.

Bowen says Planned Parenthood has “done a disservice to women” by touting the safety and lack of complications in these type of abortions.

‘Personhood Iowa’ to launch this Saturday

personhood-logoA new group will be holding its kick-off event this Saturday in Iowa and organizers say the aim is to change the conversation about ending abortion.

“We’re excited to start shaking things up a little bit,” says Rebekah Maxwell, the communications director for Personhood Iowa.

Maxwell says Personhood Iowa plans first to focus on changing the culture in Iowa churches and communities.

“We want to mobilize people who philosophically say, ‘Hey, I’m pro-life. I believe that every human being is created with purpose and worth and that deserves to be protected,” Maxwell says.

Political action is a “downstream” goal, according to Maxwell, who stresses that her group wants to change the “terminology” so the debate ultimately shifts to banning abortion rather than restricting abortion.

“When is a person a person? When does a human deserve human rights? When can they be protected by government, for example, since it’s government’s job to protect our human rights?” Maxwell asks. “I think that’s a very important question and one that tends to get lost in the larger debate about technique or restriction.”

In addition, Maxwell says Personhood Iowa plans to support “real, tangible alternatives” to abortion, like the ongoing care of the mothers and the children who are the products of unplanned pregnancies. She says all of these components amount to a “paradigm shift” for the movement.

“A more laser focus on what it is that we really believe,” Maxwell says. “It is the strategy for success, especially for the next generation.”

The launch of Personhood Iowa is scheduled for this Saturday, July 19 at Grace West Church in West Des Moines. Pastor Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City and the Reverend Ken Ratliff, the founder and leader of a Christian school in Des Moines, are among the scheduled speakers for the event.

Congressional candidate David Young stressing economic rather than social issues

David Young, the newly-minted GOP nominee for congress in Iowa’s third district, says his Washington, D.C. experience as an aide to three different senators is a strength, not a weakness. Young’s Democratic opponent, Staci Appel, has already started attacking Young as a “D-C insider.”

“Knowing how to hit the ground running in Washington, D.C., is an asset and working for Senator Grassley under his mentorship and tutalage is not a bad thing…He taught me how to listen to people,” Young says. “Iowans are my boss, not anyone else, not party leadership and we see what happens with party leadership sometimes. Look what happened to Erin Cantor when you don’t remember who your boss is.”

Young worked for Republican senators from Kentucky and Colorado before serving seven years as Grassley’s chief of staff. Young finished fifth in the Republican primary in Iowa’s third congressional district on June 3rd, but he secured his spot on November’s ballot in last weekend’s third district nominating convention.

Young says while he joins his fellow Republicans in opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, those are not issues he will stress in this year’s campaign. because nothing can be accomplished with President Obama still in the White House two more years.

“What I’ve been pushing here in my campaign are not social issues, although they are important to me personally, but issues on debt, the economy, government accountability,” Young says.

Young made his comments this afternoon during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.