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GOP seeks to bar Medicaid-funded abortions

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 11:49 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa’s Medicaid program would no longer pay for any abortions under a massive budget bill for state health departments that the state House approved Wednesday.

In a 52-46 vote, the House approved the roughly $1.7 billion state Health and Human Services budget, which includes funding for the Medicaid program. The plan approved by the Republican-controlled House offers less money for health programs than the version approved by the Democratic-majority Senate.

Under the abortion language in the bill, Iowa’s Medicaid program, which is paid for with state and federal dollars, would no longer provide funding for any abortions. Currently, Medicaid covers abortions in Iowa in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity and to protect a mother’s life.

In addition, non-hospital health clinics that perform abortions would risk losing other Medicaid funding under the House measure.

“This not in any way an attempt to try and cut services,” said Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley. “What we’re trying to do is respect the will of Iowans and make sure taxpayer dollars are not being used in an unconscionable fashion.”

But Democrats said the attempt to change the abortion rules could endanger the state’s federal Medicaid funding and would leave poor women without access to legal health services.

“This amendment puts Iowa’s health care system at risk. While we may disagree about the reasons a woman may choose to have an abortion, we can agree that protecting a woman’s health and safety at all times is paramount,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.

The Iowa Department of Human Resources reported 22 abortions paid for by Medicaid during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, and another seven during the current fiscal year.

Republican lawmakers also amended the bill to require the development of a strategy for reducing the number of cesarean sections performed under Medicaid that are not medically necessary. A previous version of the bill had said Medicaid would not pay for cesarean sections that weren’t medically needed.

The overall budget provides funding for the departments of Public Health and Human Services, including programs for seniors, children, mental health services and Medicaid. The bill will now move to the Senate, which has approved a different version of the budget plan.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said the governor will not take a position on the legislation until he views a final version.

The abortion language backed by House Republicans will face staunch opposition in the Senate. A battle over this same issue two years ago left lawmakers deliberating the Health and Human Services budget until the last day of the fiscal year, June 30.

Wessel-Kroeschell said this year could be a repeat.

“It has potential to go to June 30,” she said.

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