Wisconsin wants ban on birth control coverage for public employees with state health insurance plans

Posted on June 17, 2012

Capitol Times, June 17. 2012 by Jessica Vanegeren

Coming off a legislative session in which anti-abortion advocates claimed several policy victories while Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin saw its funding and breadth of services cut back, emboldened right-to-life forces are at work on a new set of policy proposals that would further curb women’s access to contraception and abortion.

Groups such as Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Action and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference found allies in the Republican-controlled Legislature and in Gov. Scott Walker, allowing them to, among other things, repeal the state’s Healthy Youth Act, eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood, and enact the so-called Coercive and Webcam Abortion Prevention Act.

That new law alone has caused Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin to stop providing medication-induced abortions, which accounted for 25 percent of the abortions done annually by the group, according to policy director Nicole Safar.

In the wake of this month’s recall elections, Democrats appear to have gained the majority in the state Senate (although a recount is in the works) but that could change again with the November elections, in which 16 seats are up. Thus, anti-abortion groups are crafting agendas in the hopes Republicans quickly regain their unilateral legislative power especially now that Walker, a staunch abortion opponent, has handily survived a recall attempt.

Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, says the group’s agenda has been difficult to plan, as it will not know until after the November elections whether Democrats maintain their one-seat majority in the Senate.

“Unless things change, we know that leadership will not be on our side,” Lyons says. “We won’t be able to get our issues through the Senate.”

If Republicans do pull off an Election Day comeback, Lyons says there are several bills Wisconsin Right to Life is interested in having introduced at the start of the January session.

Chief among them are a ban on birth control coverage for public employees with state health insurance plans.

Indeed, Safar points out that while much of the rhetoric from Republican lawmakers and groups like Wisconsin Right to Life highlights their goal of banning abortions, their legislative agenda focuses on blocking access to birth control, something Safar thinks too few people realize.

“From a public health perspective, the way to stop abortions is to make sure every woman has access to birth control,” Safar argues. “That’s something we need to keep pointing out and keep highlighting.”

She says the successful effort led by Wisconsin Family Action to repeal the state’s Healthy Youth Act this past session is another method to limit access to birth control. The act had mandated school districts provide comprehensive sex education to students, including information about birth control. Its repeal means districts can now offer an abstinence-based sex ed program without mention of contraception.

“These groups aren’t pushing anti-abortion agendas,” Safar asserts. “They are pushing anti-women agendas.”

Another bill favored by Wisconsin Right to Life would require a woman seeking an abortion to be given an ultrasound, then offered the option to see the results, prior to the procedure. A similar law is in place in seven other states, though is being challenged in court in Texas, Lyons says.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who is Planned Parenthood’s former state public policy director, says if such ultrasounds were required, the state would be mandating an “extremely invasive procedure,” as it would need to be performed vaginally until at least the 12th week of pregnancy in order to produce an image of the uterus.

Lyons says the group is also interested in finding a sponsor for a bill that was introduced by the National Right to Life earlier this year.

Known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the bill would ban abortions as of the beginning of a woman’s sixth month, or third trimester, of pregnancy, except for cases in which acute physical disorders endanger the mother.

According to the National Right to Life website, such legislation was enacted in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Alabama and Oklahoma, as of the beginning of the year, and bills have been introduced in Virginia, New Hampshire and Florida.

According to the national website, the states that have passed the legislation have declared there is “substantial scientific evidence” that an unborn child is capable of experiencing great pain during abortion procedures by 20 weeks after fertilization.

“These are all concepts looking for a home and an author,” Lyons says.

Taylor notes the importance of pro-choice Democrats holding on to the Senate. She says while moderate Republicans, including Sens. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Luther Olsen of Ripon, may side with Democrats on some issues, they “are not going to stick their necks out” on abortion or birth control issues.

“I think there is real potential to see some of this stuff enacted if another Republican is elected to office,” Taylor says. “We have just seen the tip of the iceberg (last session) and it’s a big iceberg.”

Posted in: Wisconsin