Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird (R), who replaced the state’s Democratic AG of 30 years in November, has paused Iowa’s sexual assault victim compensation fund’s long-time practice of covering emergency contraception and abortions for rape victims, the Des Moines Register reported on Friday. Per a statement from Bird’s spokesperson, the directive comes as part of Bird’s ongoing “top-down, bottom-up audit of victim assistance.”
“Attorney General Bird is carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds,” Alyssa Brouillet, Bird’s press secretary, said in a statement to the Des Moines Register. “Until that review is complete, payment of these pending claims will be delayed.”
Bird, who ironically ran on a platform of “protecting victims”—which she even writes in her Twitter bio—has been vocal about her anti-abortion views. She’s defending the state’s six-week ban in court, after longtime Democratic AG Tom Miller had refused to do so. Under Miller, the state’s victim compensation fund covered the full range of care survivors needed, including emergency contraception and abortion. Upon being elected, Bird asked Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, who directed the fund under Miller, to resign. “My concern is for the victims of sexual assault, who, with no real notice, are now finding themselves either unable to access needed treatment and services, or are now being forced to pay out of their own pocket for those services, when this was done at no fault of their own,” Tibbetts Murphy told the Des Moines Register.
Beth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, also told the Register she’s concerned that emergency contraception is being erroneously conflated with abortion. “I hope they really consider [my comment to them] to not consider emergency contraception and abortion as the same… I know it gets conflated in the public discourse pretty often,” she said. “But if a rape survivor had access to emergency contraception, then they would potentially not have to make that difficult decision about a pregnancy.”
In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, abortion rights advocates have been sounding the alarm on Republicans coming after Plan B next—especially as some openly admit they do not know the difference between emergency contraception (which prevents a pregnancy) and abortion. The Kansas City Health System briefly paused its service providing free emergency contraception to rape victims last year, citing concerns about the legality of doing so with abortion banned. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) expressed openness to banning emergency contraception in the fall. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) recently referred to Plan B as an “abortifacient.”
If Republicans were genuinely interested in preventing abortions, they’d be working to make Plan B more accessible to everyone—and certainly free for rape survivors. Emergency contraception and abortion, if the victim can’t access Plan B in time, are essential health services after a sexual assault; survivors have likened forced pregnancy to a “second rape.” And the financial ramifications that can follow sexual assault are extensive. At Bird’s guidance, survivors in Iowa will now have to worry about paying out of pocket for emergency contraception—which can cost as much as $50—and abortion, too. The move is simply cruel, and bad public policy.