Is it OK to coddle, or not?

Few things are as frustrating as legislative hypocrisy.

Remember a few months ago, just after the presidential election, when Iowa Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, floated the possibility of a bill to strip funding from state universities that offered services like counseling or safe spaces to students?

“I’ve seen four or five schools in other states that are establishing ‘cry zones’ where they’re staffed by state grief counselors and kids can come cry out their sensitivity to the election results,” Kaufmann explained. “I find this whole hysteria to be incredibly annoying. People have a right to be hysterical … on their own time.”

“Suck it up, buttercup” would be the condescending name of the bill, Kaufmann said, and it would be a reactionary measure on behalf of those who believe students are being “coddled.”

Just before the start of the legislative session, and following international scrutiny of the proposal, Kaufmann backtracked, announcing he would not be introducing the bill.

The public, it seems, wants students and other Iowa residents experiencing grief or other emotional distress to have access to mental health services. The exact origin of the distress is of little consequence because society has a vested interest in averting behaviors that can result when counseling isn’t offered. In short, we don’t want grief-stricken Iowans to lose jobs, neglect children, miss educational opportunities or, worst of all, take their own lives.

You’d hope this broader epiphany would lead to an emphasis on the need for more and better community-based behavioral health services. At the least, you’d think the public outcry would signal the end of legislative ploys to create some arbitrary tiered system of emotional distress.

Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, speaks at an event in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

You’d be wrong on both counts.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, has resurrected a two-year-old Iowa House bill that elevates emotional distress stemming from abortion to the top tier.

Chelgren’s proposal, Senate File 26, provides women a lifetime opportunity to bring an emotional distress lawsuit against doctors that perform abortions. According to the bill this includes, but is not limited to, “mental anguish, fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation and indignity.” Informed consent, or the paperwork completed before undergoing a voluntary medical procedure, would provide no protection under Chelgren’s bill because it would need to list every negative emotional outcome, regardless if it has been historically or scientifically tied to the procedure.

And that distinction — “voluntary medical procedure” — is key to this bill, since women experiencing emotional distress from emergency services are not afforded a similar opportunity to sue.

Although Kaufmann’s “buttercup” bill was more blunt, Chelgren’s proposal is of a similar reactionary ilk.

The bills target people doing things that either aren’t understood or are reviled. They’re an end-run around other laws, and an attempt to carve out legal exceptions based on specific political ideology.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on January 21, 2017. Photo credit: Adam Wesley/The Gazette