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Legislative coffee sparks controversy on abortion, mental health

Representative Dave Maxwell and Senator Tim Kapucian met with constituents for the second of three legislative coffee sessions to be held this spring. Photo by Sofia Mendez.

On Saturday, March 3, State Senator Tim Kapucian, Republican, and Representative Dave Maxwell, also Republican, visited Grinnell’s First Presbyterian Church for the second of three Legislative Coffees. The next forum will be held on Saturday, April 7 at 9 a.m. in the same location.

Susan Ferrari, director of corporate, foundation and government relations at the College, was present at the most recent Legislative Coffee, and reiterated a question about abortion bills asked in February by Janet Carl, former state representative and a writing instructor at the College. At the February session, Kapucian stated that he would not support bills that ban abortions after too short an amount of time for many women to even know whether they are pregnant.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, however, Kapucian voted for a bill that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and in cases of rape and incest. Ferrari claimed in her question that at six weeks, most people do not know they are pregnant, a notion supported by the American Pregnancy Association. Kapucian responded that he is against abortion.

Maxwell expressed slightly different sentiments.

“I do not believe in abortion myself, but at the same time I am 70-some years old and it is not my place to be a bedroom-spector and try to control the social mores that we have in society,” he said. “I don’t think we can slam the door on everyone.”

After the forum, Ferrari explained her reason for asking a question similar to the one that Carl asked last month.

“To be honest I think it’s kind of nice just to have him on the record continually saying that he’s uncomfortable voting for these things and still voting for them,” Ferrari said. “I appreciate that Representative Maxwell, while he personally has reservations about reproductive rights for women, has been willing to recognize that this is a woman’s personal decision and that they need to be able to make it for themselves, and I value his voting record there.”

Just as Ferrari asked a question to which she already seemed to know the answer, Andrew Dunham, owner of the Grinnell Heritage Farmer, did not so much pose a question as offer a concern. Dunham shared his experience of seeking out mental health services for family members in Iowa, only to find that resources are severely lacking.

“I was mostly just wanting to put out there how bad Iowa’s mental health system is,” Dunham said of his question. He mentioned that many politicians claim to aim for “bringing services back into the community,” but said that he knows from experience that there are no community options in Grinnell and that families seeking mental health resources must travel to Des Moines or Iowa City.

Dunham elaborated on the economic burden that a lack of mental health services can place on a community, when police forces often must use their resources to aid those who should have received mental health help sooner.

“I actually met privately with Dave Maxwell about two weeks ago and he gave us almost two hours of his time, and just listened to what we had to say, and threw out some ideas and he wrote a lot of notes,” Dunham said, adding that he appreciated the responsiveness of the representative. “I think that they’ll do what they can if they can, but at the state level, every day we don’t do something, we’re going backwards. [The mental health crisis is] worse than the Des Moines Register makes it out to be, and they’ve done a lot of exposés on [it].”

A question from another community member during the forum addressed the role of prisons in the mental health crisis. “We’ve been using our prisons as mental health hospitals,” Kapucian said in response.

According to Maxwell, the issue of prison reform has been brought up before. It was suggested by a community member that if inmates with unfair or disproportionate sentences were to be released, significant savings could be made in the prison system.

Many other questions focused on the state budget.

“We’ve heard from mental health, we’ve heard from back fill, we’ve heard from the prison system. … I can’t understand why you’re talking about cutting more taxes [when] all these needs are present. … I know you’ve mentioned several things that would bring the revenue up a little much, but not as much as you’re talking about cutting, so please take a look at that,” said community member Margery Graves.

“I agree, we can’t continue to keep cutting, we have to start reinvesting in some of those areas,” Kapucian said, noting that the senate will begin to look more closely at the budget in the coming months.

That further consideration will no doubt come up at the next Legislative Coffee, which is to be held on Saturday, April 7 at 9 a.m. at Grinnell’s First Presbyterian Church.

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