Anti-choice lawmakers in Wisconsin, nearly done tussling over the yearly budget, are now turning their attention back to reproductive rights restrictions. With the possible introduction of up to seven bills targeting abortion access, many state legislators are hoping to use the local media’s focus on the budget battle as a distraction from their extreme anti-choice agenda.
According to the Daily Page, legislators are preparing bills that will mandate an ultrasound prior to an abortion, force doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and ban so-called sex selection abortions, also allowing the patient, the person who impregnated her, and both of their parents to sue a doctor if he or she allegedly conducts an abortion for that reason. Other pieces of legislation include a 20-week abortion ban based on the disproven concept of “fetal pain” and a bill to mandate what should happen to “fetal remains.”
The legislature will also consider a variety of funding restrictions, from banning abortion coverage in insurance for state employees to ensuring “religious freedoms” are protected by allowing employers to refuse contraception coverage in employee insurance plans.
In addition, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) and state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) would provide funding for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) by giving revenue from specialty license plate sales to “Choose Life Wisconsin Inc.,” a “non-profit organization which will disburse the proceeds from the sale of the plates to pregnancy care centers for adoption assistance.”
Choose Life Wisconsin Inc. didn’t exist yet in 2012, when the state tried to propose the same plates. But since then, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin have worked together to form the organization to facilitate the funds moving from the state to CPCs. Pro-Life Wisconsin, an active anti-choice political group that fights not just legal abortion but legal contraceptives such as birth control pills and IUDs, and Wisconsin Family Action, a group focused on “traditional family values” which refers to birth control as a “nefarious” act, allegedly won’t receive any of the funds, but will feed them to organizations like Care Net and other non-medical, religiously backed centers claiming to offer unbiased medical assistance for pregnant women.
After doing a series of CPC investigations, the NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Foundation found that every one of the CPCs visited provided “false and inaccurate information to women regarding abortion or emergency contraception.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Executive Director Jenni Dye said that providing taxpayer funds to clinics that have shown they will not offer accurate medical advice is problematic, but even worse is allowing an unknown gatekeeper created by well-known radically anti-abortion and anti-birth control groups to facilitate the process. “This bill is particularly misguided in its stated intent to fund crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) through Choose Life Wisconsin. Choose Life Wisconsin is a new organization with no track record of accountability, but with ties to individuals with an extreme agenda on reproductive healthcare,” said Dye in a statement.
As for the potential ban on “sex selection” abortions, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) claims that there are “some studies” suggesting gender imbalance in Wisconsin, so the law is needed to “cause providers to ask the question, and to avoid catering to sex selection type abortions.” However, he could not point to any evidence that Wisconsin has such a problem.
Jacque is also the sponsor of a bill that would ban public employes from using insurance to pay for abortions. He said he may consider allowing an exception for rape and life endangerment, but that a “health” exception is too broad and vague and would be misused. “It’s a loophole you can drive a truck through, a whole convoy of trucks through,” he testified during committee. He also said that employers should be allowed to veto an employee’s ability to get birth control coverage in their insurance plan because “there are places that offer free birth control. You see them on TV late at night.”
“Republicans are proposing a slew of legislation to regulate and restrict women’s ability to make personal decisions about their own health and families,” Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) told RH Reality Check. “Wisconsin is 44th in the nation in job growth, and not a single one of these bills address the pressing need to grow Wisconsin’s economy.”
“At a time when Wisconsinites expect legislators to be focused on our state budget, they have instead been working on a huge number of proposals to make it harder for women to make their own decisions about abortion and contraception,” agreed Dye. “These bills represent an extreme, anti-woman agenda that is completely out of touch with what Wisconsin voters believe—that reproductive health decisions should be left in the hands of women.”
Despite the onslaught of restrictions on a person’s right to terminate or even prevent pregnancy, there are some efforts in the state to protect the right to accurate medical care and information—at least at the local level. A Dane County initiative that would prevent cities from engaging with or referring women to misleading CPCs has passed the county board.
“We are thrilled Dane County has taken steps to ensure it does not direct women to facilities that are biased or misleading,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Board Chair Greg Packnett in a statement. “This ordinance is an important step toward ensuring residents have accurate information so that they can make fully informed decisions about this very personal issue.”
CPCs in Dane County have in the past tried to use low-interest loans from the city to enhance their infrastructure, and there has been at least one known case in which a local teen seeking a judicial bypass for an abortion was forced to go to a CPC for counseling before she could have the procedure. By passing an ordinance like the one in Dane County, reproductive health advocates are able to ensure that in at least one area, access to factual, reliable health care is kept within reach.