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Stray Thoughts

Pay attention to officials’ talk vs. their actions

2/12/2024

Voters have busy lives — families to care for, jobs demanding their attention, bills to worry about. 

So, they can be forgiven if they do not closely track their government leaders’ statements and actions. Sometimes voters may find discrepancies between what politicians say and what they do.

Here is one example:

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was in the news last week with a statement about the need for Congress to replenish a federal program, the Victims of Crime Act, that assists these people in a variety of ways.

She was one of 42 state attorneys general, Republicans and Democrats, who wrote to leaders of Congress urging them to provide this important assistance.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa

“We must protect victims from being victimized twice,” Bird said in a statement. “Victims have already been through enough. With a looming 41% cut in victim services funding, we’re calling on Congress to ensure victims and survivors receive the support they deserve.”.

With her statement, Bird opened herself up to criticism that she was talking out of both sides of her mouth when it comes to protecting crime victims from being harmed again. 

Shortly after taking office in January 2023, Bird stopped reimbursing sexual assault victims for the cost of emergency contraception. That was a significant change from the policy of her predecessor, Thomas Miller, but Bird said she was temporarily making the change while her staff conducted a review of all of state government’s victim assistance programs.

One part of Miller’s practice was not surprising, given Bird’s opposition to abortion. Under Miller, the state victim compensation fund sometimes paid for abortions for women who had been impregnated by rapists.

But less controversial was Miller’s practice of paying the cost of the so-called Plan B medication for rape victims, because the emergency contraceptive, though not failproof, reduces the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex.

So, there should be few qualms among abortion opponents to state government helping sexual assault victims from becoming pregnant. To take the opposite position comes across as cold and uncaring for the teens and women who are victimized by rapists.

Last April, Bird’s spokeswoman Alyssa Brouillet told Iowa Public Radio that as part of a broad review of victim assistance programs the attorney general was “carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds.” 

Bleeding Heartland reporter Laura Belin asked Bird’s office last week whether that broad review had been completed. But Bird’s staff would not answer questions about the policy review or the Plan B reimbursements.

These are not “gotcha” questions from a persistent reporter. The questions are logical, especially with Bird being critical of proposed reductions in federal assistance for crime victims. Her staff’s refusal to answer such logical questions leaves critics to rightfully wonder whether the attorney general is hoping people do not remember her controversial decision a year ago.

Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement last year it was unconscionable for Bird to take away this emergency medical care as part of her policy review.

“Being sexually assaulted is traumatic for survivors, and the state of Iowa simply must do the right thing by them,” Stringer said. “This includes helping victims put their lives back together and assist them on the road to recovery, Instead, this decision penalizes and re-victimizes them.”

Stringer had no idea last year that Bird would be talking 10 months later about protecting crime victims from being victimized twice. Foreshadowing the attorney general’s recent statement, Stringer said back then, “There is no room for politics during a crime victim’s emergency.”

There is an important reason why the attorney general may be eager to publicize the letter she and other attorneys general signed, but is less eager to acknowledge whether her “policy review” has been completed and whether she is standing by her prohibition on reimbursing rape victims for emergency medical care.

The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll showed last year that 61% of Iowa adults, and 70% of Iowa women, believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Even in a conservative state like Kansas, voters rejected an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2022 that would have declared women have no right to an abortion.

Beth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Des Moines Register last year she hopes Bird does not “consider emergency contraception and abortion as the same, because emergency contraception is not the same as abortion. If a rape survivor has access to emergency contraception, then they would potentially not have to make that difficult decision about a pregnancy.”

I understand the frustrations of newsmakers when journalists fail to contact them when questions arise about the statements and views of those newsmakers. But it is equally understandable why reporters become frustrated when those political leaders dodge questions about important issues the officials are involved in.

You should not be opining on the importance of Congress not re-victimizing crime victims when you yourself have engaged in what some people would see as re-victimization. ♦

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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