Seated at the table from left: State Reps. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, Holly Brink, R-Oskaloosa, and Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, sit in a subcommittee for HSB 678 on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.

DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa House subcommittee advanced a bill, HSB 678, that requires the state licensure and inspection of individual abortion facilities on Tuesday morning.

State Representatives Holly Brink, R-Oskaloosa, Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, listened to public feedback about the bill.

Abortion advocates state that the bill intends to place obstacles to access abortion services.

Republican legislators contend this bill is part of a comprehensive effort to update regulations for ambulatory surgery centers and ensure women’s safety.

The bill states that every individual abortion facility to operate must have a license contingent on demonstrating they have at least one physician on staff. They also must the requirements and adopted rules under Iowa Code Chapter 17A, the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals will inspect facilities before a license is issued. According to the bill, before licenses dare renewed, facilities will undergo an annual inspection.

“We know that this is part of a bigger effort to limit and eventually ban abortion. Medical providers who provide abortion care already have licensing requirements, already are subjected to a whole range of regulation, and this is just an attempt to limit abortion,” Daniel Zeno, Director of Policy and Advocacy for ACLU Iowa, said in his feedback to legislators.

Connie Ryan, the executive director of InterFaith Alliance of Iowa, said that bills like HSB 678 would block access to legal abortion and make abortion less safe.

Jamie Birch Elliot, the public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood North Central States and lobbyist with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, argued that it is clear that the licenses are not already in place. She stated that no other health care facility in Iowa is required to have such a license, and believed it wasn’t needed.

“Why single out abortion providers in this instance?” she asked, stating that the health and safety of their patients is Planned Parenthood’s number one priority and that their physicians and nurses provide “the highest standards of patient care.”

“It’s clear that this is a politically motivated restriction, and it’s medically unnecessary and inappropriate. And instead of putting the safety of women first, it actually puts them more at risk by putting these onerous restrictions in place,” Elliot added.

Pro-life advocates argued that abortion facilities had escaped regulation from the state for far too long.

“What I can’t understand, and what I haven’t understood for years is how we could have centers that perform dangerous procedures, but, obviously, result in the death of the child to be unlicensed and unregulated as long as it has,” Maggie Dewitte, executive director for Iowans for Life, said.

She noted that the bill requires minimum standards for safety, including the staffing of facilities to have qualified individuals. 

“Women deserve the best and highest standards, and requiring basic licensee oversight is a step in the right direction,” Dewitte added.

Daniel Sunne, policy liaison with The FAMiLY Leader, pointed out that 22 states require abortions to be performed in licensed facilities.

“I would note in the Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds court decision, the Iowa Supreme Court said the state has a compelling interest in protecting the woman’s own health and safety and ensuring that abortions like other medical procedures are performed under safe circumstances for the patient,” Tom Chapman, the executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said.

“This bill is clearly constitutional under both the United States and state constitution, and the state has considerable discretion in determining standards for the licensing of medical facilities. So I think from our perspective, I appreciate the fact you’re trying to stand in the shoes of women and ensuring patient safety, whether people oppose or support legal abortion, the least we can do is make sure that women receive proper medical care,” he added.

Kim Laube, Director of Life Ministries at Luther Family Services of Iowa, said that in her position, she is responsible for the licensing of their adoption program.

“I’ve been through these procedures for licensing, and I find them to be incredibly helpful,” she explained.

Laube said the procedures helped with ensuring her agency had the right personnel, and helpful with the agency staff record-keeping for the safety of children placed with adoptive families. 

“I think that if we don’t address the health, the safety of new facility that we’re actually hurting women, this bill does not address legal abortion, there’s nothing that takes the right or the legality away from abortion. It’s to promote health care, and I will, I would say, women’s health care because they’re the only ones who were being treated in these clinics. And, again, we’re applying these standards across the board, not (just) abortion clinics.” Meyer said, stating that she supports advancing the bill.

Wessel-Kroeschell, who opposed advancing the bill, said that abortion clinics are already heavily regulated. 

“I have a list here of all of the regulations that Planned Parenthood follows… there’s probably no more heavily regulated healthcare industry than Planned Parenthood because every year we come together with a different way to regulate abortion care. And that has been going on now for many, many years. So it’s very heavily regulated,” she said.

“I just think it’s important that we take a look and make sure that all across healthcare that we keep it the safest for all entities and parties involved in this is just another step. As you saw, we mentioned (HF) 2066, which is another house file looking at outpatient surgeries, and so this is just another step to make sure that we unify and keep the Iowa health care at our top priority, Brink, who chaired the subcommittee and supported the bill, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

The bill must pass the Iowa House Human Resources Committee by the end of the week to still be considered this legislative session.

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