Less than four months after becoming Iowa Attorney General, Brenna Bird ordered her office to stop paying for emergency contraception for rape victims. The attorney general’s office had previously covered the cost of Plan B pills, and in some cases abortions, for rape victims since 1990 as part of Sexual Abuse Examination Program. The program was created by the Iowa Legislature in 1979, and moved into the attorney general’s office 11 years later.
In April, when Bird’s order was first reported by Iowa Public Radio, a spokesperson for her office characterized it as just a delay in payment during an audit of all victim services provided by the attorney general’s office.
“As a part of her top-down, bottom-up audit of victim assistance, Attorney General Bird is carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds,” the spokesperson told IPR’s Natalie Krebs. “Until that review is complete, payment of these pending claims will be delayed.”
The audit is still not complete, but unsurprisingly, Bird appears to have already decided to not restart payments.
The attorney general was asked about her refusal to pay for the cost of emergency contraception for rape victims during an appearance on Iowa Press this weekend. Responding to a question from moderator O. Kay Henderson, Bird acknowledged that “we did pause payments to entities like Planned Parenthood and others that were being reimbursed for abortions and for Plan B.”
Bird seemed to dismiss the idea that this may cause hardship for victims or be a problem for healthcare providers who assist them, saying “those services still remain available under Iowa law to victims. It’s just whether public funds will pay for them.”
Asked by Henderson if she intends to make the current refusal to pay a permanent policy after the formal conclusion of the audit, Bird replied, “I do, yes, once it’s done.”
Bird has made opposition to reproductive rights a priority since becoming attorney general in January. On Feb. 1, Bird joined 19 other Republican state attorneys general in an attempt to intimidate Walgreens and CVS by threatening the pharmacy chains with unspecified legal action if they followed new FDA regulations and made a prescription drug commonly used in medical abortion readily available. The next week, Bird and 21 other Republican state attorney generals submitted an amicus brief in support of a federal lawsuit by anti-abortion groups seeking a nationwide injunction on distribution of the same prescription medicine.
Bird ran on a strictly conservative platform in 2022 when she defeated Democrat Tom Miller, the longest-serving state attorney general in the country. It was her second time running for the office. In 2010, she was the Republican nominee for attorney general, but lost to Miller.
Bird grew up on her family’s farm near Dexter, Iowa. She was homeschooled before attending Drake University, and later the University of Chicago Law School. Her first job in politics was with Steve King. She worked for the then-congressman for seven years, starting in 2003 as his deputy chief of staff before being promoted to chief of staff.
During her Iowa Press appearance, Bird said believes the Iowa Supreme Court will uphold the severe abortion ban passed this month during a one-day special session. Although it is essentially identical to a 2018 ban struck down as unconstitutional, Bird said she believes what she misleadingly called the “heartbeat law” (the law would ban abortions prior to a heart being formed), because of “big changes since 2019 at the national level, notably the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case,” which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“So, we will be arguing to uphold the heartbeat law in Iowa’s Supreme Court in light of that new federal case law,” Bird said.
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The ongoing legal challenge to the current ban relies on the right guaranteed by the Iowa Constitution, not federal law. So did the decision that imposed a permanent injunction on the previous version of the abortion ban.
Three days after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the new abortion ban into law, a state district court judge issued a temporary injunction stopping it from being enforced. Abortion up to 20 weeks remains legal in Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to hear the governor’s appeal of the temporary injunction, but no date for a hearing has been set.
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