Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he does not believe the split-control Legislature gave his administration the legal authority to order halt taxpayer funding for abortions in cases of fetal abnormality, as some pro-life groups and legislators are contending.
“This is something the Legislature needs to address,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference. “The present law is not clear and we cannot take action unless we have a law that gives us the authority to do so. I have always been one that believes that we have to abide by the constitution and the laws, and that we cannot by administrative rule do things that are not authorized by the law.”
Pro-life advocates have urged Branstad to intervene in a controversy stemming from a decision by his administration to deny a request by 41 GOP House members, asking the Iowa Department of Human Services to rescind state rules governing pregnancies terminated in cases of rape, incest and fetal deformation.
Last week, Marlys Popma, president of Iowa Right to Life Committee, said her group “takes severe issue” with DHS Director Charles Palmer’s decision to deny the lawmakers’ rule-making petition, saying Iowa is one of three states that fund abortions with taxpayer dollars for fetal abnormality — a practice she contended that is inconsistent with the federal Hyde Amendment and therefore “such abortions should be ceased immediately. We call on the administration to act accordingly.”
Likewise, state Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, who led the petition effort to change DHS rules, said she did not believe the agency ruling was consistent with the intent of legislation passed during the 2011 session that Branstad signed relating to taxpayer-funded abortions.
Branstad said he disagreed.
“That’s been carefully reviewed and that language is very vague and there are very many interpretations of that,” the governor said.
“We understand this is a controversial issue,” he told reporters Monday. “There are strong feelings on both sides and there was not a consensus as I understand between the House and the Senate on this issue, so it was not addressed in the legislative session and we don’t have the authority to do it by rule.”
In making his ruling, Palmer cited the potential loss of federal funding should the state halt government-funded abortions as a major consideration in his decision to deny the GOP legislators’ rule-making petition. He said legal precedent in federal decisions regarding similar situations in other states that have sought to end government-funded abortions point to the likelihood that Iowa could risk $2.1 billion in Medicaid money by pursuing that course of action.