Iowa Supreme Court: State can ban Planned Parenthood from receiving sex-ed funds

Planned Parenthood
A sign hangs above a Planned Parenthood clinic on May 18, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. |

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a state law prohibiting abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from participating in two federally-funded education grant programs, reversing a lower court decision.

In a decision released Wednesday, the court ruled 6-1 in favor of sections 99 and 100 of House File 766, which were passed by the Iowa General Assembly in 2019.

The sections prohibit abortion providers from receiving funds from the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program overseen by the Iowa Department of Human Services and the Personal Responsibility Education Program overseen by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Justice Dana Oxley wrote the majority opinion, concluding, in part, that the state “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.”

“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,” wrote Oxley.

“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.”

Oxley also concluded that “an abortion provider lacks a freestanding constitutional right to provide abortions” and thus “any conditions premised on providing abortions cannot be considered unconstitutional.”

“… precluding abortion providers from receiving funding for the educational CAPP and PREP programs has no effect on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion,” added Oxley.

“Where abortion providers have no constitutional right to perform abortions, we conclude the unconstitutional conditions doctrine does not prohibit the state from barring abortion providers from receiving CAPP and PREP funding.”

Justice Brent Appel authored a dissenting opinion, arguing that “the statutes impose unconstitutional conditions on Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) by attempting to restrict abortion activities done on ‘their own time and dime.’”

“The legislature through unconstitutional conditions in these statutes is trying to accomplish indirectly what it cannot do directly: namely, attack abortion rights,” wrote Appel.

“This cannot be permitted. For the reasons expressed below, I would affirm the lower court’s grant of PPH’s motion for summary judgment on other grounds.”

In 2019, the Iowa General Assembly passed a bill that banned abortion providers from CAPP and PREP, with Gov. Kim Reynlds signing the bill into law.

Soon after, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Iowa, arguing that the new law was unconstitutional.

In May 2020, Fifth Judicial District Judge Paul Scott ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, placing a permanent injunction on the enforcement of the law.

“The Act has no valid, ‘realistically conceivable’ purpose that serves a legitimate government interest as it is both irrationally over-inclusive and under-inclusive. The Act violates PPH’s right to equal protection under the law and is therefore unconstitutional,” wrote Scott last year.  

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