Teen births drop nationwide and in Iowa

The U.S. teen birth rate reached “a historic low in 2010,” according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control this week. Iowa was among 47 states where the birth rate for teenagers fell significantly from 2007 to 2010, and Iowa’s rate of 28.6 births per 1,000 teenagers was ranked 34th nationwide. More details are after the jump.

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Grassley, Harkin split as Senate tables repeal of birth-control mandate

The U.S. Senate voted today to table Republican Senator Roy Blunt’s amendment to repeal a federal regulation on birth-control coverage in employer-provided health care insurance. Iowa’s senators split on party lines.

UPDATE: Added a statement from Tom Harkin below. He argues that the Blunt amendment goes way beyond coverage of contraception and other preventive health services.

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Events coming up this weekend and next week

Next Friday is “funnel” day at the Iowa legislature; with a few exceptions, all bills that haven’t been approved by at least one committee by March 4 are dead for the 2011 session. The coming week is therefore a particularly important time to contact your legislators about issues important to you. I believe lawmakers find phone calls more difficult to ignore than letters and e-mails, but by all means make contact in writing if that’s how you prefer to communicate. While contacts from their own constituents are the most meaningful, lawmakers often pay attention to contacts they receive from Iowans outside their districts too.

Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer used to lobby for the Iowa Nurses Association before she was elected to the legislature in 2002. A few years ago she wrote up some helpful hints for persuading lawmakers, which I posted here.

Details on a few lobby days and many other events are after the jump. As always, please post a comment or send me an e-mail to let me know about something going on that should be on this calendar.  

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Next phase begins in battle over Iowa spending cuts

The Iowa House approved a major “deappropriations” bill, House File 45, on January 19 by a party-line vote of 60 to 40. Republican leaders fast-tracked what they call the Taxpayers First Act, which passed the House Appropriations Committee on the third day of the 2011 session. The bill would cut dozens of programs while increasing spending in a few areas. In addition, $327.4 million from this year’s surplus revenue would go into a new “Tax Relief Fund,” instead of being used to help close the projected budget gap for fiscal year 2012. This bill summary (pdf) lists the budget cuts and supplemental appropriations in House File 45. Click here for the full bill text.

Although the majority of speakers at a January 18 public hearing opposed the bill, and organizations lobbying against the bill outnumber those that have signed on in support, the House Republicans passed the bill with few significant changes. Democrats offered many amendments as floor debate went late into the evening on January 19, trying to save funds for the statewide voluntary preschool program, passenger rail, smoking cessation programs, and sustainable communities, among other things. Representatives rejected almost all those amendments on party-line votes. This page shows what amendments were filed, and the House Journal for January 19 contains the roll call votes.

House File 45 now moves to the Iowa Senate, which has a 26-24 Democratic majority. Democratic senators are likely to back increased expenditures for mental health services and indigent defense while opposing many of the spending cuts. After the jump I take a closer look at some of the most controversial provisions in House File 45.

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New abortion restrictions could stall in the Iowa House

Iowa Republicans vowed late last year to pass new abortion restrictions modeled on a Nebraska statute which in effect bans the procedure after the 20th week of gestation. Abortions are already illegal in Iowa after the sixth month of pregnancy except if a doctor believes the procedure could “preserve the life or health” of the pregnant woman. The new bill, House File 5, asserts that an “unborn child” can experience pain after the 20th week of gestation and bans abortions after that time unless “The pregnant woman has a condition which the physician deems a medical emergency” or “It is necessary to preserve the life of the unborn child.”

Very few abortions are performed in Iowa after the 20th week of pregnancy. In 2006 just nine out of more than 6,700 abortions occurred at the 21th week of gestation or later. Of the 5,829 abortions performed in Iowa in 2009, only six were induced after the 20th week. However, Republicans want to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a clinic in Council Bluffs to serve women seeking abortions after 20 weeks. Carhart had worked with Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas for more than a decade but moved to Omaha after Tiller’s assassination in 2009. The new Nebraska law prompted Carhart to close his Omaha clinic. Last month he began working at a Maryland clinic.

Iowa House Republican leaders have expressed confidence about passing new abortion restrictions. They have a 60 to 40 majority with no pro-choice members of their caucus. I believe this legislation could pass the Iowa Senate, because unlike the 1980s and 1990s, there are no longer any pro-choice Republicans to cancel out the votes of Democrats supporting more restrictions on reproductive rights. Governor Terry Branstad would be eager to sign any anti-choice bill.

However, Craig Robinson reported yesterday that House File 5 lacks the votes to clear the Iowa House Human Resources Committee. Two of the most conservative first-term GOP legislators, Kim Pearson and Glen Massie, serve on that committee and oppose the bill, presumably because it would not go far enough to restrict abortions. Without their support, Republicans can count on only 10 votes in the 21-member committee. According to Robinson, Iowa Right to Life, the Iowa Catholic Conference, and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition all support House File 5. But the FAMiLY LEADER organization led by Bob Vander Plaats and others from the Iowa Family Policy Center oppose the bill.

Pearson and Massie will face tremendous pressure to change their position. I wouldn’t be surprised if they vote for House File 5 after all. But if they resist carrots or sticks Republican leaders wave at them, the bill could be dead for the 2011 session.

Speaking of reproductive rights, no one in the House Republican caucus seems to realize that the family planning spending cuts in House File 45, which passed the chamber on January 19, would likely increase the number of early abortions performed in Iowa. It’s sadly typical for anti-choice politicians to oppose effective means to prevent unintended pregnancies.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth posted a good rundown on the GOP split over this bill.

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