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Iowa attorney general indefinitely suspends sexual assault survivors’ access to victim compensation fund for Plan B, abortion


Iowa Republican then-Attorney General candidate Brenna Bird speaks during a Republican Party of Iowa election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Despite state and federal law requiring compensation for crime victims’ medical treatment, the new Republican attorney general of Iowa has indefinitely suspended payments for emergency contraception and abortion for sexual assault victims.

Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement to the Des Moines Register on Friday that the state is “delaying” all payments of assistance claims from sexual assault victims until an audit can determine “whether this is an appropriate use of public funds.”

Bird’s press secretary Alyssa Brouillet said the attorney general is in the process of conducting a “top-down, bottom-up audit” to review the use of victim compensation funding for the prevention or termination of pregnancy. She said that payments will be paused “until that review is complete.”

No timeline was provided as to when the process is expected to end, or when payments are expected to resume, if ever.

Iowa law mandates that the state’s crime victim compensation fund be used in part to pay for “the cost of a medical examination of a victim for the purpose of gathering evidence” as well as “the cost of treatment of a victim for the purpose of preventing venereal disease” for sexual assault victims.

Although Bird said the state is auditing the use of “public funds” for medical care for sexual assault survivors, Iowa’s victim compensation fund is not funded by general taxpayers.

“The program helps victims with certain out-of-pocket expenses related to injuries from violent crime,” says the section of Bird’s official website that describes the victim’s compensation fund. “It is funded entirely by fines and penalties paid by criminals (not by taxpayers).”

Additionally, under Iowa law, the definition of “public funds” does not include the state’s crime victim compensation fund.

State law does not make any specific reference to the fund’s application toward contraception or prevention of pregnancy, nor does it clarify what exactly “treatment” includes. But despite any ambiguities about its legal obligation to compensate rape victims, the Hawkeye State’s longstanding policy under ten-term Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller, who served from 1995 to 2023, was to use victim compensation funds to pay for the so-called “morning after” pill as well as other similar treatments to prevent unwanted pregnancies that result from rape. In rare cases, the state also used the funds to foot the bill for abortions.

Bird defeated Miller’s bid for an 11th term in November.

Bird’s move to suspend victim compensation for the morning after pill may further blur the lines between Plan B and mifepristone. Both medications are related to pregnancy — Plan B prevents it, while mifepristone is used to end it — but they are not the same.

Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, is the first pill in a two-medication abortion regimen used in more than half of all abortions nationwide. In January, the FDA changed the regulations relating to mifepristone to allow retail drugstore chains to dispense the medication in store and by mail with a doctor’s prescription.

Mifepristone differs from “Plan B,” commonly known as the morning after pill. It is an emergency contraceptive that is used to reduce the chance of pregnancy after unprotected or protection-compromised sex and it is available without a prescription as an over-the-counter drug.

In the wake of the FDA’s regulation changes regarding the sale of mifepristone, at least one Republican Congressman has publicly admitted he did not know the difference between the two.

Abortion rights advocates criticized Bird’s move as an additional attack on sexual assault survivors.

“The Iowa attorney general’s decision to pause health care funding for sexual assault survivors is abhorrent and further demonstrates politicians’ crusade against Iowans’ health and rights,” said Ruth Richardson, CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, in a statement. “Sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have to worry about how they are going to cover the cost of health care after being assaulted. Survivors should be able to get the health care they need, and which survivors have relied on for years. It’s deplorable and reprehensible for the state government to take away health care from victims, and it is critical for the attorney general to resume the health care funding immediately.”

Law&Crime reached out to Brouillet, Bird’s press secretary, for further comment, but did not receive a response.

Bird’s decision to “delay” payments to sexual assault victims comes on the heels of dueling orders by federal district court judges last Friday relating to mifepristone. In Texas, U.S. District Judge and Donald Trump appointee Matthew J. Kacsmaryk ruled to withdraw the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decades-old approval of mifepristone, effectively banning its sale and use nationwide. The same day, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice, a Barack Obama appointee, directed the FDA to maintain access to the drug in several states.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos