By Mark Stringer
We as a society can all agree that we should support sexual assault survivors as they recover from a devastating attack. Why wouldn't covering the cost of emergency contraception be part of that?
Iowa has a Crime Victim Compensation Program, which helps victims with certain out-of-pocket expenses related to injuries from a violent crime. For sexual assault survivors, in the past, that has included testing for sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and in some rare cases, abortion. The program is funded entirely by fines and penalties paid by those convicted of crimes—not by tax dollars.
But Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird has decided that she will stop covering the cost of an abortion for those sexual assault survivors who request it. She also is going to stop covering emergency contraception. That's right: She won't cover costs for preventing pregnancy for a rape victim.
The new attorney general has made her position on abortion clear: She wants to ban it. But it's even more cruel and bewildering that Bird is also withholding reimbursement for emergency contraception.
Also called the morning-after pill, Plan B, or other brand names, this medication simply prevents the victim from ovulating in the days after the assault so that any viable sperm cannot fertilize an egg. It prevents pregnancy. It does not stop a pregnancy that has already started.
Plan B is widely accepted even by those who do not support a woman's choice to have an abortion. Why deny sexual assault victims contraception that can prevent pregnancy?
We don't know, and Bird has declined to explain herself or her position, which is doubly distressing. When a public servant stops an important service such as this one, they owe the public an explanation.
Because of Bird's decision, local governments and advocacy organizations are scrambling to help undo the attorney general's damage. In fact, just recently, the Polk County and Johnson County boards of supervisors voted to begin covering these health services for sexual assault survivors—at a minimal cost.
That's the way it should be. When someone is rebuilding their life after a traumatic assault, our leaders should be doing their best to make sure they receive compassionate and complete care.
When a woman has been sexually assaulted, figuring out how to afford medical care should be the last thing on her mind. Attorney General Bird's actions are simply re-victimizing the very people she is duty-bound to serve: survivors of a violent crime.
Mark Stringer is the executive director of the ACLU of Iowa.