GOP state lawmakers announced two bills today that would expand access to birth control and create some exceptions to the state’s abortion ban.
One of those bills is unlikely to become law, as Governor Tony Evers continues to promise to veto any bill that does not fully repeal Wisconsin’s 19th Century abortion ban.
The first bill, announced by Republican Senator Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Representative Joel Kitchens of Sturgeon Bay, would make birth control available without a doctor’s prescription.
Instead, a person seeking birth control through either a hormonal patch or a pill could get a prescription directly from their pharmacist.
At a news conference earlier today, Representative Kitchens says that the bill would make access to birth control more equitable.
“Requiring physicians to prescribe birth control is a significant barrier for women to use birth control effectively, especially women in poverty,” Kitchens says. “The medical community is nearly unanimous in their belief that birth control should be over the counter.”
Kitchens says that by making birth control more readily available, fewer people would need to seek abortions.
This bill does include some caveats. A person seeking birth control would need to fill out a questionnaire and receive a blood-pressure screening from their pharmacist.
And a pharmacist could still require a person to be referred to a physician first if there’s evidence of health-related red flags. Guidance for what would constitute a referral would be developed by various state medical and pharmacy boards.
According to a brief released last month by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that monitors contraception and abortion policies, 17 states plus the District of Columbia permit pharmacists to prescribe contraception. Nine of those states limit prescriptions for minors, and in four of those states, pharmacists can refuse to prescribe contraceptives.
Meanwhile, the second bill announced today would carve out small exceptions to Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion.
That ban, which outlaws abortion in all circumstances, was made null after the Roe decision in the 1970s. But when Roe was overturned last year, Wisconsin’s total ban again took effect.
The bill, also sponsored by Senator Felzkowski and by Republican Representative Donna Rozar of Marshfield, would create exceptions for people who become pregnant through sexual assault or incest within the first trimester of a pregnancy
Senator Felzkowski says that, while she is pro-life, she believes that Wisconsin law needs to catch up to modern medicine.
“Is this an ideal bill? No, it is not, because we should be protecting all life,” Felzkowski says. “But, this is not an ideal world, this is a world where bad things happen, tragic things happen, horrific things happen to people. We have 10, 11, 12 year olds who are victims of rape or incest, (and) it’s very dangerous for them to carry to term. It’s in the best interest to put these exceptions in there.”
The bill would also clarify what it means to quote “save the life of the mother,” the only exemption available in the original 19th Century law. The clarification is a bright line that medical professionals have been pushing for since last year, as they say the language of the original bill is too vague, and does not clarify how imminent death must be before a provider can act.
Under the bill, saving the life of a mother, under which medical professionals could provide an abortion at any point in pregnancy, would include a serious risk of death and irreversible physical impairment for the mother and any circumstance in which a fetus has no chance of survival.
Top Democrats, though, are unlikely to approve the bill. Earlier today, Governor Evers reiterated his promise to veto any abortion-related bill that does not restore equivalent access under Roe v. Wade.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard says she’s all for making birth control available over the counter. But she’s not supportive of the bill to create abortion exceptions in the first trimester.
“This feels very much like a political ploy with the upcoming election in the state of Wisconsin,” Agard says. “I know that having any sort of exemptions is unpalatable to the people of Wisconsin, and is quite frankly misguided policy making by the Republicans in the legislature.”
The bill also faces roadblocks from the Republican party itself, with top leaders in both chambers signaling that the bills are unlikely to pass.
And as Republicans appear unlikely to approve the bills, top Democrats are sticking to a plan to unseat Wisconsin’s abortion restrictions by banking on a judicial solution. A lawsuit filed by both Evers and state Attorney General Josh Kaul to overturn Wisconsin’s abortion ban is languishing in the courts.
That lawsuit, which was filed in Dane County Court last June, has not yet had a court date scheduled, but is expected to end up before the state Supreme Court.
Democrats have repeatedly touted access to abortion as the main issue at stake in the state Supreme Court election, now less than three weeks away. Liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz supports overturning Wisconsin’s abortion ban. If elected, she’d likely be the deciding vote if the issue comes before the state’s top court.
Her opponent in the race, conservative former Justice Dan Kelly, has stayed quiet on the issue though he’s been endorsed by a number of pro-life groups, including Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life.
Both bills announced today are currently circulating for co sponsorship in both chambers. In a press release earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg said that the bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate. His counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker Vos, told reporters the bills would be unlikely to pass before the spring election.
Photo courtesy: Helena White / WORT News Team