Political Mercury

By Douglas Burns


Branstad wants to get Oklahoma tough on Iowa women


A few weeks ago in an effort to appeal to his party’s mouth-breathing wing, Terry Branstad threw uncompromising (and one suspects uninformed) support behind an Oklahoma law that requires pregnant women to watch ultrasounds of their fetuses and listen to details from doctors about the function of their vital organs.
Whether they want to or not.

There are no exemptions for rape or incest, meaning women could be forced to watch a monitor showing the product of a violent attack against them.

In The Des Moines Register Republican primary debate this past May, Branstad, now his party’s candidate for governor in the fall, simply answered “yes” without qualifications when asked if Iowa women should be under the requirements of the controversial Oklahoma law.

That law, by the way, took effect July 1.

The law is strongly opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Ken King, the executive director of that organization, told me in a phone interview from Oklahoma City, Okla.

The medical association views the law as intruding into a doctor’s judgment.
“We don’t need the Legislature to help them practice medicine,” King said. “They go to school for a lot of years for that.”

King said Oklahoma doctors are scrambling to figure out the protocols, how the law actually works in their offices. For example, what are doctors supposed to do if a woman refuses to look at the ultrasound screen?

“We think the jury’s still out on how to implement it,” King said.

One wonders if Branstad read the Oklahoma law — or more than cursory media accounts of it — before he answered the Register’s debate question.

You would think someone who spent the last chapter of his life admirably building Des Moines University would have more respect for doctors, and provide a responsible answer, something along the lines of “before commenting on such a measure it demands thorough examination.” Or at the very least, “Iowa should watch what happens in Oklahoma,” Branstad could have argued.

But in the debate Branstad checked the floor and saw Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts, two unequivocal and unquestioned pro-lifers, and no doubt figured he’d better look definite in the moment, even if meant coming off as cavalier upon reflection.

While Branstad wants to dictate from Terrace Hill how Iowa doctors handle consultations in their offices with female patients, he joined his final two Republican gubernatorial primary rivals in saying said he opposed federal health reform, reasoning that President Barack Obama should not be able to force people to buy health-insurance policies.

In a recent interview in Carroll, Branstad said there were no inconsistencies in simultaneously holding those views (force that raped teen to have an ultrasound, and, oh yeah, keep the long arm of the government out of our health care).

“I’m pro-life,” Branstad said. “I want to protect the innocent, unborn child, and I want to make sure that a woman makes an informed decision on that very critical issue.”

Meanwhile, Branstad said national health-care reform under President Obama and congressional Democrats heaps mandates that will stretch an already ballooning debt.

The specificity of the questions on abortion in the Register’s debate drew Branstad out from behind safer, generalized “pro-life” positioning, and no doubt provided fodder for outside organizations, 527s, to position the Republican as hostile to women where it matter most to many of them: in doctors’ offices.

Of course, Branstad wants to give Iowa women one of their own in a lieutenant governor, state Sen. Kim Reynolds of Osceola. Will Iowa women take that choice?


We’ve got Reynolds so we’ll just overlook the fact that we have toothpicks propping open our eyes for unwanted ultrasound viewings. Maybe Reynolds will be there in obstetricians’ waiting rooms to bring popcorn to the despairing pregnant ladies as they’re watching ultrasound videos of “My Life: The Next Generation, Like It Or Not.”

Republicans have predicted that abortion will be a major issue in the fall, although they think it turns in their favor.

Not so, says Iowa’s current lieutenant governor, Democrat Patty Judge, who says Branstad is walking onto far-right turf with support of the Oklahoma ultrasound law.
“My reaction to it is that’s just incredible,” Judge told me. “We fought very, very hard for women’s rights to make their own decisions about their bodies. I’m old enough to remember the time when that was not true, prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. We can’t go backwards.” CV


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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