Governor Terry Branstad is likely to become the only governor in the country to have what amounts to veto power over using tax dollars to pay for abortions for low-income women on Medicaid.
“As I understand it, the decision is not whether there’s an abortion or not, the decision is whether the state is going to approve funding, which is a decision that’s made after the fact,” Branstad says. “So I’m not really going to have any say in whether this procedure occurs or not — I would discourage it, wherever possible — but then I’ll have to make a decision about whether it’s appropriate under the circumstances and the guidelines that we have.”
Legislators inserted language in a budget bill that calls for the governor’s approval of taxpayer-financed abortions for Medicaid patients in cases of rape or incest, to save the life of the mother or in cases of severe fetal abnormality.
“Iowa law is very restrictive on the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions. Very few of them are funded and I would like to see even less funded,” Brantad says. “We’re going to carefully look at this situation and if I approve it — and I think it’s likely that I will — it will be done on a case-by-case basis.”
Branstad says this is not the first time he, as governor, has had to make decisions about what medical procedures qualify for state funding.
“I was governor back in the 1980s when organ transplanting just started and I had to make the decisions and approve whether we were going to do those things,” Branstad says. “Those are very important decisions and they need to be done in a very thoughtful way.”
Officials in the Department of Human Services have been deciding which abortions — in those four limited circumstances — qualify for taxpayer funding, and Branstad suggests legislators have “kicked” that decision “upstairs” to the governor.
“I think this is a compromise that was worked out in the legislative process and this has been a very sticky issue,” Branstad says. “You may recall they were not able to come to agreement on this last year and so I feel as the chief executive it’s my responsibility to try to make things work and to work with both parties in both houses of the legislature on this and to work with the people in the Department of Human Services as well.”
Branstad says when he was a state representative in the 1970s he was “an advocate” of a “stricter view” that few abortions should qualify for taxpayer funding. The abortions for Medicaid patients seeking an abortion under the limited circunstances of rape, incest, to save the life of the mother or because of severe fetal abnormality are performed at the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.
Branstad made his comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.