By Janice Weiner, Iowa City Council Member and Candidate for Iowa Senate District 45
Throw a stone into a pond and the waves move in concentric circles, eventually reaching far-flung shores. Imagine Iowa like this pond and an abortion ban like stone. If the Iowa legislature bans abortion or the courts establish the six-week ban, according to Gov. Reynolds’ Aug. 11 filing, it will have far-reaching consequences.
In the center, where this stone hits the water, will be all pregnant women who need or may need gynecological care in the future, not just an abortion. We already have the lowest number of OB/GYN providers per woman in the United States, as well as swaths of counties where no OB/GYN care is available and birthing units have closed. What about those remaining OB/GYNs? They will try to analyze a law drafted by legislators who have no medical training; they will turn to hospital lawyers for advice, rather than trusting their medical instincts.
This next wave? This is the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine and its residency program, the only state-accredited OB/GYN training program. Its accreditation and the medical school’s ability to attract quality resident applicants will be affected. Training in abortion (medical procedures used in many circumstances) is required for accreditation. If abortion is prohibited and residents cannot attend training here, they would have to travel out of state – away from home and family, with all associated costs, including out-of-state insurance Expensive condition.
The next biggest ripple will impact the University of Iowa itself, an economic engine for both this region and the state. In fiscal year 2021, as an R1 research university, UI raised $702.4 million in public and private research funding. The university’s annual economic impact on the state and beyond is in the billions. UIHC also serves as a regional medical center, all the more crucial as waves of COVID have hit that state and smaller hospitals have sent their sickest patients there.
It will become more difficult to attract quality faculty and staff, not only to the medical school and UIHC, but to the university as a whole. Who will want to bring their family to a place where they, their partner, their children and their grandchildren could be denied the health care they need? And for those who come – unlike the UI draw for decades, where faculty and staff were recruited, planned to stay a year or two but became attached to the community and put down roots – they can come just for these few years and move on.
As a state, how much are we going to lose in revenue? In intellectual and human capital? In reputation? In federal grant funding? How will we calculate the research projects that were never applied for, the people who never came to teach and influence young people, the start-ups that never saw the light of day, the growth that could have been – and young people who leave as soon as they finish high school or high school?
This vision is hardly dystopian. Iowa is already experiencing a severe brain drain (the 10th worst percentage difference in the nation between the number of college graduates we produce and the number of graduates living in the state). We cannot know all those who left or who decided not to come, even if the anecdotes are not lacking. But we know that people value their freedoms and their right to medical care.
We underestimate the effects of an abortion ban at our peril. Throw that stone and those waves – they’ll reach shores we never imagined.
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