The governor’s health care bill has drawn praise and criticism from both sides of the abortion debate

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate praised aspects of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ omnibus health care bill and criticized other parts Wednesday during an Iowa subcommittee meeting.

House Study Bill 91, a 44-page bill, encapsulates a dozen different policy goals, including expanding support for anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” while allowing over-the-counter access to hormonal birth control drugs.

Maggie DeWitte of Pulse Life Advocates, an anti-abortion organization, questioned the bill’s inclusion of over-the-counter birth control access. “I don’t quite understand why this was included in the bill, and (it) generally does not have the support of the pro-life community for several reasons,” she said.

DeWitte claims that hormonal contraceptives are associated with some health risks and can be used as an “abortion” drug.

DeWitte and other abortion advocates praised part of the bill that would expand state grants to organizations that offer alternatives to abortion. Reynolds’ bill would provide $2 million for the More Opportunities to Support Mothers, or MOMS program, which would also include support for a fatherhood and administration grant program.

Abortion rights advocates, however, said the state should not be spending money on crisis pregnancy centers. “We are deeply troubled by this proposal to quadruple taxpayer investment in anti-abortion or crisis pregnancy centers. These unregulated, bogus women’s health clinics have a long and documented history of misleading women and misrepresenting themselves as legitimate medical providers,” said Maisie Stilwell of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

Stillwell, however, said the organization supports the part of the bill expanding access to birth control, “which we know is very safe and effective.” However, she urged lawmakers to remove the bill’s 18-year age limit for over-the-counter access.

Maternity health care, paid leave

Other, less divisive parts of the bill include providing four state-funded obstetrics and gynecology fellowships annually to address the state’s shortage of obstetrician-gynecologists. Scholarship recipients will be required to commit to practice in rural or underserved areas in Iowa for at least five years. The bill would allocate $560,000 for the program.

The bill also provides for four weeks of paid parental leave for civil servants for the birth or adoption of a child. No one spoke against the provision Wednesday, but some supporters argued for extending the furlough to six or eight weeks.

The bill also addresses the licensing of emergency hospitals in rural areas and provides $1 million in grants aimed at creating regional “centers of excellence” in rural health care. It includes a medical malpractice cap on non-economic damages, a version of which is already being moved as a separate bill. It would also provide property tax breaks for commercial child care centers, among other provisions.

Rep. Heather Mattson, D-Ankeny, was among speakers at the meeting who questioned the number of different issues contained in the bill. “I share the concern that this is such a large bill. There are so many components to it, some of which I really like and some of which I have major concerns about,” she said, adding that some provisions are already moving forward as stand-alone bills.

The bill was advanced to the House Health and Human Services Committee, but Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, who chairs the committee, said the bill would be split up and parts would be considered by other committees.

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