Iowa Supreme Court upholds law barring abortion provider Planned Parenthood from participating in programs directed at reducing teen pregnancy

By Dave Andrusko

Iowa Supreme Court
Photo: Ctjf83 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By a near unanimous 6-1 vote, the Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision and upheld a 2019 law that “prohibited abortion providers from participating in two federally funded educational grant programs directed at reducing teenage pregnancy and promoting abstinence.”

According to Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ogden told the justices in oral arguments  that while the curricula of the two programs

do not touch on abortions, Planned Parenthood is widely known as an abortion provider, delivering up to 95% of all abortions performed in the state.

“If you’re a parent or a citizen of the state, and you find out Planned Parenthood is providing sex education under these programs for Iowa teens, there’s a risk you would react differently than you would react to someone else who was not engaged in extracurricular performance of abortion or advocacy in favor of access to abortion.”

The six justices– Dana Oxley, Susan Christensen, Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield, Christopher McDonald, and Matthew McDermott—wrote

Even if the programs do not include any discussions about abortion, the goals of promoting abstinence and reducing teenage pregnancy could arguably still be undermined when taught by the entity that performs nearly all abortions in Iowa. The State could also be concerned that using abortion providers to deliver sex education programs to teenage students would create relationships between the abortion provider and the students the State does not wish to foster in light of its policy preference for childbirth over abortion. The government has considerable leeway in selecting who will deliver a government message, whether the message is a diversity and inclusion program, a drug prevention program, or, in this case, a sexual education and teen pregnancy prevention program.

In its 54-page-long decision, the Court said that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland [PPH] raised two challenges to the Act. That the Act (1)“violates its equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution by unconstitutionally distinguishing between those who provide and advocate for abortion and those who do not”; and (2) “conditions the receipt of government funds on PPH giving up its rights to free speech, free association, and a due process right to provide abortions.”

The justices found neither persuasive.

By contrast, “The State presented three different purposes for the law: to express its preference for childbirth over abortion, to ensure that its state-sponsored sexual education message is not delivered by entities that derive significant revenue from abortion-related activities, and to avoid indirectly subsidizing abortion providers. Only one of these purposes must be rational for the Act to pass constitutional muster. ”

The Court found that the law met all three tests.

The decision is the latest battle in an ongoing war waged by pro-abortionists against a battery of pro-life laws passed by the Iowa legislature. Leys put the decision in the context of the 2018 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that not only threw out the state’s 72-hour waiting period, but also found that there is a “fundamental right to abortion” in the state Constitution.

“The 2018 ruling also sparked calls for an amendment saying the Iowa Constitution doesn’t ensure abortion rights,” he wrote on Wednesday. “ The Iowa Legislature this year took the first step toward getting the proposed constitutional amendment, dubbed the Protect Life Amendment, on voters’ ballots, which could happen as soon as 2024.”

The Court’s decision reflects that “Five of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court, including four of the five in the majority of the 2018 decision, have been replaced in the years since, all by justices appointed by [pro-life Gov. Kim] Reynolds,” as the Des Moines Register’s William Morris and Stephen Gruber-Miller reported.