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Facts behind Iowa’s 1st District congressional debate

Left; Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, announces she is seeking reelection in Iowa’s 1st congressional district on Nov. 10, 2021. Right; Rep. Christina Bohannan poses outside the Iowa State Capitol on Jan. 12, 2021. (Jerod Ringwald and Ryan Adams) Left; Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, announces she is seeking reelection in Iowa’s 1st congressional district on Nov. 10, 2021. Right; Rep. Christina Bohannan poses outside the Iowa State Capitol on Jan. 12, 2021. (Jerod Ringwald and Ryan Adams)

Left; Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, announces she is seeking reelection in Iowa’s 1st congressional district on Nov. 10, 2021. Right; Rep. Christina Bohannan poses outside the Iowa State Capitol on Jan. 12, 2021. (Jerod Ringwald and Ryan Adams)

By Natalie Dunlap October 1, 2022
By Sabine Martin October 1, 2022
By Lyle Muller October 1, 2022
By Kate Perez October 1, 2022

Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Christina Bohannan had been exchanging opposing political viewpoints the evening of Sept. 26 without much of the interrupting that often occurs during heated political campaigns.

That is, until Bohannan, the Democratic challenger seeking to oust Republican Miller-Meeks from an Iowa congressional seat Miller-Meeks has held for two years, said:

"She voted against letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. She blames Medicare for the high price of health care, has said that our seniors use their health care too much and says that they should gargle with salt water instead of: go to the doctor. OK, she voted against — "

Then, Miller-Meeks interrupted to say, "I’m sorry, I have never suggested anybody gargle with salt water to go to the doctor."

Bohannan replied: "It’s in the newspaper."

Was it? Yes, but in a paraphrased account that shows up in a 13-year-old news story in The Hawk Eye newspaper archives. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee candidate report on the incumbent Republican includes that comment as a talking point.

But a sound argument could be made that the account is taken out of context if suggesting that Miller-Meeks thinks seniors always should gargle instead of going to a doctor, especially given Miller-Meeks’ denial of saying that. Gargling with salt water is offered as an example in this Sept. 6, 2009, paraphrase in The Hawk Eye, of Burlington, Iowa, about Medicare’s financial solvency: "Miller-Meeks blames the bankruptcy on overuse, saying those who get care for free are prone to use it unnecessarily like patients with mild sore throats who’d (sic) otherwise would gargle with salt water." 

At the time of the article, Miller-Meeks was a non-practicing ophthalmologist in Ottumwa. Now, she is seeking reelection to Congress from a reconfigured U.S. District 1 in Iowa.

Miller-Meeks, from Ottumwa, and Bohannan, of Iowa City, clashed on several issues when they debated on Iowa Public Television the evening of Sept. 26. We took a look at some of the other claims made that night:

Miller-Meeks, speaking about banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother: "When you look at if the baby is pain capable, around 15 weeks is pain capable."

Conflicting research exists on whether a fetus can feel pain at 15 weeks, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still determines that fetuses are unable to perceive pain until 24 to 25 weeks because their pain receptors have not developed. 

Most research finds that pain receptors develop in fetuses around 27 weeks, according to a 2005 Journal of American Medical Association study. "Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester," the study’s researchers concluded. They added that "pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. Neither withdrawal reflexes nor hormonal stress responses to invasive procedures prove the existence of fetal pain, because they can be elicited by nonpainful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing."

Although nerves may be forming in the 15th week of gestation, scientists mostly believe nerve endings must form completely and be mature before a fetus perceives pain. "Although the system is clearly immature and much development is still to occur, good evidence exists that the biological system necessary for pain is intact and functional from around 26 weeks’ gestation," pain researcher Stuart WG Derbyshire, associate professor of psychology at the National University of Singapore, wrote in a 2006 article.

But Derbyshire also wrote that studies of hormonal responses to stress observed in fetuses at 18 weeks and beyond match those of adults or older infants, suggesting that "reporting pain is observable in fetuses at 18 weeks’ gestation." That was an important step in his 2006 research because he eventually shifted his thinking. 

In a 2020 article, he argued that research since showed that pain could be possible as early as 12 weeks gestation. "We no longer view fetal pain (as a core, immediate, sensation) in a gestational window of 12 to 24 weeks as impossible," Derbyshire, who supports abortion rights and using anesthesia for fetuses when they could feel pain during medical procedures, wrote with pro-life author John C. Bachmann.

Melissa Simon, vice chair for research in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is among those who disagree strongly with that suggestion.

"There are no data that support fetal experience of pain at 15 weeks gestational age," Simon, director of Feinberg’s Center for Health Equity Transformation, said.

Bohannan: "Mariannette Miller-Meeks is not telling the truth when she says that this (supporting abortions for rape, incest or mother’s health) has been her position all along. The fact is that she has sponsored not one, but two, nationwide abortion bans, one of which is called a life at conception bill, which bans all abortions from the moment of conception with no exceptions at all including not for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother."

In early September, Miller-Meeks co-sponsored a bill that would cut off abortion access after 15 weeks, except for rape, incest or if the pregnant patient’s life or health is at risk. 

Miller-Meeks co-sponsored the February 2022 Life at Conception Act that Bohannan cited. That act would grant equal protection for the right to life of a born and preborn human. "The terms ‘human person’ and ‘human being’ include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being," the bill states. 

The act does not mention rape, incest or mother’s health but says it should not be seen as authorizing the prosecution of women who have an abortion.

Miller-Meeks also co-sponsored earlier this year a January bill that would prohibit abortions, with the exception of rape, incest or mother’s health, from being classified a medical procedure that could qualify for a health savings account tax credit. 

Another abortion-related bill she co-sponsored was the SAVE Mom and Babies Act of 2021, which would have prohibited the federal government from approving any new abortion drugs and increased regulations on previously approved drugs. Other abortion-related legislation she has co-sponsored are a bill to prohibit government discrimination against health care providers who refuse to participate in an abortion procedure, a resolution that requires accurate abortion statistic reporting, and a bill that dealt only with a funding matter: prohibiting the use of federal funds for a Health and Human Services Reproductive Healthcare Access Task Force.

None of the bills has passed the House.

Miller-Meeks said at the debate with Bohannan she favored the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson decision that struck down Roe v. Wade provisions for legal abortion. 

Miller-Meeks: "I think what is extreme and terrible are all of the House Democrats voting for a bill that would permit abortion up until the time of birth. That is what they voted for, all of the Democrats."

Miller-Meeks had made this claim before and we rated it as being Mostly False after she stated it in a July 17 newsletter. She is referring to the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which says states could not stop health care providers from offering abortions before fetal viability, which generally is around 24 weeks into pregnancy. It adds that states could restrict health care providers from providing abortions after fetal viability, but only "when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health." 

Miller-Meeks voted "no" when the House approved the bill 219-210 and sent it to the Senate, where no action has been taken.

Our reading of the bill, which we reported in the previous story, shows the bill permits abortion up until delivery, but only if deemed necessary to protect a patient’s life, and does not explicitly require that states keep the abortion legal in all cases past the point of fetal viability. 

Bohannan: "She (Miller-Meeks) talks a lot about the deficit but the fact is she voted against the one bill that was a major reduction in the deficit in a decade when we had the opportunity to reduce the deficit for the first time in a decade, she voted against."

On Aug. 12, voted nay on H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which became law Aug. 16. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Inflation Reduction Act is expected to result in a net spending decrease of $58.1 billion from 2022 to 2031. 

In a press release, Miller-Meeks said she voted no because the U.S. "is facing skyrocketing inflation and our economy has been thrown into a recession. Now is not the time to pass a $740 billion spending bill, let alone one filled with partisan priorities." Miller-Meeks also objected to the bill’s provision for hiring 87,000 Internal Revenue Service agents. 

The last law to lower the deficit in a large way was the Budget Control Act of 2011 during the Obama administration.

Miller-Meeks: "Gasoline prices have come down a little bit because gasoline was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and because demand is down."

Miller-Meeks is right. According to AAA, the current national average price for a gallon of diesel is $4.878, up 47 percent from the national average a year ago of $3.326. Diesel reached a record high of $5.816 on June 19. 

The U.S. Energy Department released oil from the nation’s reserves July 26.

Analyses from CBSReuters and CNN, showed that reduced costs for crude oil, increased gasoline production and a decrease in demand from consumers cutting back on driving have caused prices to drop. 

Bohannan, speaking about a proposed gun rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution that voters will pass judgment on in November and over which Congress has no say: "It’s a supercharged version of a Second Amendment that only a handful, literally three or four other states, have. And all of those other states have seen an increase in gun violence since they have passed this."

Bohannan was right when she made this statement in connection to a proposed Iowa Constitution amendment that would add a right to own and bear firearms and require that violators of the right be brought before a court

Bohannan campaign manager Sarah Prineas wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that Bohannan was referring to strict scrutiny amendments in Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri. National Center for Health Statistics 2020 data confirms that those three states have some of the nation’s highest firearm mortality rates: 

  • Louisiana ranks second with a 26.3 percent death rate.
  • Missouri ranks fourth with a 23.9 percent death rate. 
  • Alabama ranks fifth with a 23.6 percent death rate. 

Iowa averaged 11.2 gun violence deaths per 100,000 residents in 2020 and was ranked 33rd out of all U.S. states, according to the National Center for Health Statistics

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Our Sources

Iowa Public Television debate transcript and video

Christina Bohannan campaign website

Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaign website

Email exchange with Christina Bohannan campaign, Sept. 29, 2022, "H.R.8296 – Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022;" and roll call vote

G.H. Breborowicz, "Limits of fetal viability and its enhancement," Early Pregnancy (Cherry Hill); Jan. 5, 2001

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2019 Surveillance Summaries," Nov. 26, 2021

Charlotte Lozier Institute webpage article, "Gestational limits on abortion in the United States compared to international norms," by Angelina Baglini, Feb. 1, 2014

KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), "Abortions Later in Pregnancy," Dec. 5, 2019

DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), "Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Republican Candidate in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District," by DCCC Research Department, August 2019

The Hawk Eye, "Expense, healthier nation are issues being considered," by Christina Crippes, September 6, 2009

Stuart WG Derbyshire website

Derbyshire SWG, Bockmann JC., J Med Ethics 2020; 46:3–6

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "Facts Are Important: Gestational Development and Capacity for Pain," 

Live Science webpage article, "Do Fetuses Feel Pain? What the Science Says," by Sara Miller, May 17, 2016

National Library of Medicine, "Limits of fetal viability and its enhancement," by G. H. Breborowicz, Jan. 2001

National Library of Medicine, "Fetal Pain: The Science Behind Why It Is the Medical Standard of Care," by Robin Pierucci, May 21, 2020

National Library of Medicine, "Can fetuses feel pain?," by Stuart Derbyshire, April 15, 2006

Charlotte Lozier Institute webpage article, "Fact Sheet: Science of Fetal Pain," Sept. 13, 2022

Journal of the American Medical Association, "Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence," by Susan Lee, et. al, Aug. 31, 2005

American College of Pediatricians, "Fetal Pain: What is the Scientific Evidence?" principal author Robin Pierucci.

Melissa Simon, Northwestern University news release, Sept. 14, 2022

U.S. Supreme Court, Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, June 24, 2022

H.R.1011 – Life at Conception Act

H.R.6828 – No Pro-Abortion Task Force Act

H.R.6471 – Protecting Life in Health Savings Accounts Act

H.R.6060 – Conscience Protection Act of 2021

H.R.6702 – Safeguarding Women’s and Children’s Health Act of 2022

H.R.3684 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, House roll call vote and Senate roll call vote

Iowa Legislature, text of "Right to Bear Arms" amendment to the Iowa Constitution

NPR, "7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked," by Jaclyn Diaz et. al, June 24, 2022

AAA, Gas prices, updated 9/29/22

U.S. Department of Energy news release, July 26, 2022

CNN, "Here’s why gas prices are sinking," by Matt Egan, August 3, 2022

Reuters, "U.S. gasoline prices are finally falling. Why?" by Laura Sanicola, July 14, 2022

CBS, "Gas prices have dropped for 7 straight weeks. Here’s why that’s good and bad news," by Aimee Picchi, August 4, 2022

H.R.5376 – Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, House roll call vote

Congressional Budget Office, "Estimated Budgetary Effects of Public Law 117-169," Sept. 7, 2022

S.365 – Budget Control Act of 2011

The White House, BY THE NUMBERS: The Inflation Reduction Act, Aug. 15, 2022

The White House Archives, "Official Sources Agree: The Affordable Care Act Reduces the Deficit", April 9, 2012

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, "CBO Scores IRA with $238 Billion of Deficit Reduction," Sept. 7, 2022

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, "What’s In the Inflation Reduction Act?," July 28, 2022, "Miller-Meeks Statement on $740 Billion Inflation-Reduction Act," Aug. 12, 2022

The National Center for Health Statistics, Firearm Mortality Rate by State, 2020 

Ballotpedia, Iowa Amendment 1, Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment, 2022

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Gun Safety Policies Save Lives, 2022

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