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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2018

Iowa abortion law trial wraps on second day

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette | Jul 27, 2017

DES MOINES — Low-income and rural women could be negatively impacted at higher rates by a new law requiring Iowa women to obtain an ultrasound and wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion, several expert witness argued Tuesday during the second and final day of a hearing challenging the state law.

“Based on my 30 years of research on poverty, I believe the act will cause financial, logistical and emotional stress and challenges for women living at or near the poverty line,” said Jane Collins, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies low-income laborers, poverty and gender.

“I believe it will cause women to skimp on food and other basic necessities for themselves and their families, take on debt or leave bills unpaid. … Some women, in trying to pull together what is needed, will not be able to and forgo the abortion they desire and instead carry to term the pregnancy.”

Senate File 471 — which went into effect briefly earlier this summer before the Supreme Court intervened — requires a 72-hour wait before a woman can obtain an abortion.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, are challenging the state, stating the second appointment is medically unnecessary and burdensome.

The state argues that regulatory agencies have a legitimate interest in regulating the medical profession in promoting public safety and protecting life.

More than 50 percent of the women seeking abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities in Iowa live at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty line, Collins said.

This means the law could add logistical and financial burdens to about 2,000 of the 4,000 women seeking abortions in the state each year.

She added that number is a “conservative” estimate as many poverty experts typically include those living between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level as poor or low-income.

To further illustrate her point, Collins put together several hypothetical situations illustrating what low-income women living in more rural areas would have to spend per trip to obtain an abortion under the new law.

For instance, a woman without access to a car and living in Sioux City — which recently saw its Planned Parenthood close after the Republican-majority legislature worked to move Medicaid dollars away from abortion-providers — would have to spend three days travel time due to bus schedules and clinic hours, and more than $270 on public transit costs and motel stays, to attend an appointment in Des Moines.

Adding further complications, Collins said, is the fact that low-wage workers are far less likely than other workers to have paid sick days or personal days.

“It can be very challenging to get time off for two trips out of town within two weeks of each other,” she said. “She couldn’t really do that without explaining where she is going and therefore not keeping the procedure confidential.”

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson of the state Attorney General’s office tried to get Collins to further quantify the population of low-income women who could be negatively affected by travel and making two trips.


He pointed out that in 2015, only 10 women from Sioux City received surgical abortions and another 76 percent received medication abortions. That is .5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of total abortions performed in Iowa overall, Thompson said.

Is that a significant number?, he asked Collins.

“A significant number of women would be delayed and a significant number would be prevented from receiving an abortion,” Collins said. “It is an important question — what is a significant number? I can’t give you an exact number, but if it was 100, would we say that’s OK?”

Additional testimony discussed complications women may run into when it comes to finding a physician able to perform an ultrasound. Sixty-six of Iowa’s 99 counties do not have OB-GYNs, physicians associated with Catholic health systems may not be able to perform an ultrasound for abortion purposes, and many physicians require a referral or new patient appointment.

The state did not call any witnesses Tuesday, but submitted written testimony into the record.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Jeffrey Farrell told attorneys on both sides that he plans to be “relatively prompt” in coming to a decision, but cautioned he would take his time to “do things right.”

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