Iowa abortions increase for second straight year

About 14 percent more abortions were performed in Iowa during calendar year 2020 compared to the previous year, indicating that a sharp increase recorded in 2019 was not a one-off.

Iowa Department of Public Health data shows 4,058 pregnancy terminations occurred during 2020, up from 3,566 abortions performed in 2019. That number represented a 25 percent increase from the 2,849 abortions recorded in 2018.

Prior to 2019, abortions were on a steady downward trend in Iowa and nationally for at least a decade. The figure recorded for 2020 was the highest since 2013.

The Iowa Department of Public Health provided this table to Bleeding Heartland on July 15.

The number of Iowa residents obtaining abortions rose more slowly than the total abortion number: up a little more than 20 percent from 2018 to 2019 and increasing by another 10 percent last year.

Conversely, terminations performed in Iowa on pregnant people who live in other states rose more rapidly than the overall total, by about 62 percent in 2019 and by another 38 percent last year. Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and South Dakota all have more restrictive abortion policies in effect than does Iowa. Planned Parenthood reopened a clinic in Sioux City during the summer of 2020, making medication abortions more available to residents of South Dakota and Nebraska as well as northwest Iowa. Planned Parenthood had closed its Sioux City clinic in 2017 following a loss of state funding for family planning services.

The Republican-controlled Iowa legislature replaced the long-established Iowa Family Planning Network in 2017, creating a new state-run family planning program with the sole purpose of excluding Planned Parenthood as a provider. At that time, Democratic lawmakers including State Senator Janet Petersen warned that reducing access to contraceptive and other non-abortion services would produce more unintended pregnancies and more abortions.

The number of Iowans using services through the state’s new family planning program quickly dropped by nearly 75 percent, the Des Moines Register reported in late 2019.

The 11-page state Department of Human Services report, first obtained by the Des Moines Register, shows that 5,857 “members,” or people, utilized services through the program in the calendar year 2017. The number of people using services under the program as of December 2018 was 1,502, despite 3,162 being enrolled in the program at the time.

According to the most recent available Department of Human Services report, average monthly enrollment in Iowa’s family planning program was 2,904 individuals during calendar year 2019. “Of these, 1,557 unduplicated clients accessed family planning services through the FPP from 112 providers during the same time period.”

Don’t be surprised if Iowa’s unintended pregnancies and abortions increase further in the coming years. The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that the state can exclude Planned Parenthood from providing sex education programs funded through federal grants.

UPDATE: Social conservatives displayed some pretzel logic when Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register sought comment on the latest abortion statistics. For instance, Iowans for Life executive director Maggie DeWitte disputed the idea that the family planning program changes sparked the trend, saying that Iowans still have access to birth control.

Instead, DeWitte blamed the rise in abortions on a 2018 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court, which declared for the first time that the Iowa Constitution protects abortions as a fundamental right. 

“When you create a fundamental right, that means you can’t regulate abortions in any way,” she said. “Our hands are tied.”

Never mind that Iowa still regulates abortions in many ways and has banned almost all abortions after 20 weeks since 2017.

Meanwhile, Republican State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the anti-abortion state constitutional amendment approved this year, told Leys,

he’s “very, very skeptical” of the argument that abortions are increasing because Planned Parenthood was barred from the public family planning program.

“Because let’s face it, I’m sorry, but Planned Parenthood, their main focus and the way they make their money is abortion, and I think we all know that,” he said.

If Planned Parenthood had been allowed to continue receiving the family planning money, abortions might have risen even more, Holt said.

Holt’s argument makes no sense. Planned Parenthood was the leading provider in the state’s family planning program for all of the years abortions were declining here.

Top photo of patient wearing medical gown in gynecologist office by RacheeLynn and available via Shutterstock.

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