ACLU sues to overturn new Iowa ban on funding for Planned Parenthood sex education programs

The Cedar Rapids Planned Parenthood Health Center, shown Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. — Lauren Shotwell/Little Village

The ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit in state court on Wednesday seeking to overturn sections of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) budget bill that were designed to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving government grants to provide sex education programs. The lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, seeks both a temporary and permanent injunction of those sections of the bill that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law on May 3.

“The particular provisions that we’re challenging disqualify any provider of these essential sex education programs to at-risk Iowa youth from providing abortions, referring for abortions, as well as advocating for abortion rights or even associating with others that do,” Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for ACLU of Iowa, said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

The ACLU of Iowa filed the suit on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH). PPH currently uses grant money blocked by the new law to provide sex education programs in 31 schools and 12 community-based, youth-service organizations across the state. In some Iowa counties, PPH is the sole provider such programs, Bettis Austen noted.

Speaking at the press conference, Planned Parenthood’s State Executive Director for Iowa Erin Davison-Rippey said her organization provides its educational services in areas of the state “where the need is greatest,” including places with high rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Planned Parenthood has been a trusted provider of comprehensive sex education in Iowa for decades — and for nearly 15 years under one of the federal programs that the Reynolds administration just defunded,” Davison-Rippey said. “We have successfully competed for these funds and used a state-approved curriculum to provide sex education to thousands of Iowa youth.”

“By signing this law, the governor is undermining the health of young people in our state, making it more difficult for them to get the tools they need to make healthy decisions now and for a lifetime.”

Davison-Rippey said Reynolds and the Republican leaders of the Iowa legislature who introduced the restrictions into the budget bill during the final days of the legislative session, using a procedure that prevented any effort to remove them, weren’t just failing young Iowans in need of medically sound information, they were also undermining their stated goal of reducing the number of abortions.

“The evidence is clear: The way to reduce abortions is by making sure people have the healthcare information that they need,” Davison-Rippey said.

Reynolds could have removed the sections of the bill prior to signing it by using her line-item veto, but chose not to.

Bettis Austen explained that the lawsuit alleges the new restrictions violate the Iowa Constitution.

“We challenged the restriction under the free speech and association protection [of] the state constitution, as well as substantive due process and equal protection,” she said. “Because those restrictions on funding are really predicated on limiting the providers of those essential education programs’ constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of their patients.”

According the current DHS schedule, recipients of the grants for sex education programs are scheduled to be announced on May 17 and 22.

“We have asked that the court move very quickly and enter a temporary injunction, or temporarily block that restriction from taking effect, while our challenge to the law can be heard by the court,” Bettis Austen said.

This is the second lawsuit filed this week that challenges a law passed during the latest session of the Iowa legislature.

On Monday, Cedar Rapids attorney Bob Rush and a group of eight Democratic Iowa lawmakers filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court to overturn a provision in another budget bill that changed the state’s 57-year-old method of selecting judicial nominees.

That change gives Gov. Reynolds more power in the appointment of commission members who select potential Iowa Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The lawsuit alleges that change was unrelated to the main purpose of the larger bill in which it was included, and therefore violated the Iowa Constitution’s requirement that all bills “embrace but one subject, and matters properly connected therewith.”

Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City and Reps. Art Staed and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids are among the eight legislators who are suing to return the judicial appointment system to the way it has functioned since 1962.

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