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Cutting funding not the way to cut abortions

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JUNE 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Last week, 41 Iowa Republicans led by Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, signed a petition delivered to the Iowa Department of Human Services. The petition demands that Human Services change its rules on abortions so that Medicaid funding is not provided to victims of rape or incest.

In Iowa, there are only four reasons abortions are currently covered by government funding.

According to current Human Services subrule 441-78.1, the four circumstances that would warrant a woman eligible for an abortion are that her life is endangered by carrying a fetus to term; that she was a victim of rape; that she was a victim of incest; that the child is physically deformed, mentally deficient, or afflicted with a congenital illness. Many Iowa legislators want to change this.

This is beyond the issue of abortion. Choking off money to those who cannot afford anything other than Medicaid is not the way to go about phasing out abortion. If Human Services decides to change its rules to comply with these petitions, Iowa will see more problems than benefits.

Since abortion was effectively decriminalized in the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, many anti-abortion advocates believe the way to stop abortions from taking place is by cutting governmental funding for abortion as a medical procedure. Curbing the funding does not actually alter the number of abortions, it only creates a dangerous environment for women who are too impoverished to make their own health-care decisions.

This debate is not new — the pro-abortion rights/anti-abortion rights camps have been at it for years. Obviously, no one wants to cut off funding for necessary procedures, and obviously, no one wants to kill babies. Unfortunately, the debate comes down to semantical arguments about what is a necessary procedure and what is a baby.

But cutting funding to the poor for medical procedures that, according to the highest court in the land, says they have a reasonable expectation to is never a good start.  

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter reminded Americans that "there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people can't" when he approved the renewal of the Hyde Amendment — a bill that has been argued as both too restrictive and too permissive of abortion, depending on one's side of the debate. It was originally established to restrict abortion funding, but it has been somewhat expanded to encompass more than one exception. Over time it has changed, but this year the amendment includes funding for women who have been victims of rape or incest.

For fiscal 2011, $1.8 billion of the state budget was provided through Medicaid. Twenty-two women had abortions and received Medicaid reimbursement, according to the Des Moines Register. Recent estimates show that there are 383,800 Iowans who receive Medicaid funding.

A very small percentage of the money being paid out for Medicaid reimbursements for abortions: 22 women out of nearly 400,000 people. Given the other problems in the state, more focus could be put on other issues instead of this handful of potentially lifesaving procedures.   

In reality, it is unlikely that Iowa would lose all federal Medicaid resources — but it is still a risk. So far, 14 other states have tried to restrict abortion funding further than the Hyde Amendment allows, and 13 of those states have been ordered to rescind their actions. Only one state has been able to restrict the abortions with no penalty: South Dakota.

The state has an undeniable interest to protect life and validate its budget. Anti-abortion advocates want to decrease the number of abortions in any way they can because a life is a life — no matter what income level. That is a bipartisan argument to which everyone can agree; the controversy enters in when we must balance a woman's life to the potential life of a fetus.

Whether or not it is moral to have an abortion, it is immoral to cut off funding to the poor to score political points. Iowans deserve better than to be treated like political pawns in the ever-changing game that is the abortion debate.


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