It’s Cold in Wisconsin, But the Fight Is Just Warming Up – A Wisconsin Reproductive Roundup

Robin Marty

Fighting condoms in high schools, trying to defund Planned Parenthoods, bemoaning birth control being covered by insurers, and trying to excommunicate Catholics. Pro-life Wisconsin and their cohorts have been busy this year. A look at reproductive rights in Wisconsin.

It’s winter in Wisconsin, but despite the plunge in temperatures, the friction between pro-choice and anti-abortion activists heats up more each day.

The battle is being fought on multiple fronts: against Planned Parenthood, against Young Catholics for Choice (YCFC), against college students, against high school students and even against the state itself. Each new assault makes one thing abundantly clear: Pro-Life Wisconsin and their other anti-choice allies in the state are using every means they can to cut young people off from access to reproductive health care.

In recent weeks, we’ve been following Human Life Alliance and their Icare advertising supplements being distributed on college campuses across the country. As we noted, these advertisements carry misleading information on contraception, pregnancy, and abortion.
But staffers at some college papers are fighting back.

The Advance-Titan, the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, said "no thanks" to carrying the misleading ad supplement. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

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Virginia Zignego, a spokeswoman for Pro-Life Wisconsin, says the Advance-Titan’s decision to reject the advertisement demonstrates its bias and amounts to censorship.

The newspaper’s faculty adviser, Vince Filak, says the paper’s decision was fully discussed. He calls it the perfect Catch-22 because accepting the ad would have upset people, too.

Unfortunately, newspapers at four other campuses in the state have either run or plan to run the supplement which, among other things, tells rape victims they cannot heal unless they give birth to their attackers’ babies.

Pro-Life Wisconsin is familiar with injecting themselves into campus issues. They’re in a dispute with Young Catholics for Choice (YCFC) , a group affiliated with the national organization, Catholics for Choice. YCFC has launched a campaign to make Emergency Contraception (EC) more accessible to women at colleges and universities in Wisconsin. According to Express Milwaukee:

The group stressed that emergency contraception—or the “morning-after pill”—is not an abortion pill, because it prevents a pregnancy from occurring if taken within a 72-hour window after unprotected sex. EC does not terminate an existing pregnancy. “[Emergency contraception pills] are not effective once the process of implantation has begun, and will not cause abortion,” states the World Health Organization fact sheet on emergency contraception.

Catholics for Choice and Family Planning Health Services of Wisconsin have developed a TV ad and radio ads to stress the need for women to have EC on hand just in case they need it.

“As a Catholic, I need to follow my conscience,” the ad concludes.

YCFC states that its views are the same as a majority of mainstream Catholics, stating that "90% of American Catholic women have rejected the church’s ban on modern contraception, and they should continue to make decisions based on their ‘informed conscience.’”

That other 10% is apparently made up of the members of Pro-Life Wisconsin, and they want to make sure they are heard. A Pro-Life Wisconsin press release on the matter states:

“As a young Catholic myself, Young Catholics for Choice does not speak for me,” said Virginia Zignego, communications director of Pro-Life Wisconsin. “The Catholic Church clearly opposes contraception and abortion. It is unfortunate that Catholics for Choice are using the label ‘Catholic’ to push their agenda and normalize risky sexual behavior.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, soon-to-be Milwaukee Bishop Jerome E. Listecki has also made himself clear on the debate, stating that the YCFC are not Catholics due to their renegade stance on birth control. He does not weigh in on whether the rest of the 90% of Catholics who believe birth control is not a sin are also "disown[ing] their Catholic heritage." It comes as no surprise to learn that Listecki was one of two Wisconsin bishops in 2008 to oppose requiring hospital to provide EC to rape victims (the other bishops all remained neutral).

Pro-Life Wisconsin isn’t just focused on the college campuses, but high schools as well. The easiest way to prevent pregnancy is to have accessible birth control available to those engaged in or considering having sex. Based on public health evidence, the school board in Milwaukee unanimously approved allowing nurses in high schools across the district to hand out condoms to students that request them.

The Journal-Sentinel reports that:

In proposing the program, the school district said a 2009 study found that nearly 63% of Milwaukee Public School high school students were sexually active, and that nearly one-third of those students had not used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse.

Also cited were figures that rate Milwaukee high among U.S. cities in births to teen mothers and "particularly high" in the incidence of certain sexually transmitted diseases.

The district noted that its sex education policy takes an abstinence-based approach to reducing the risk of communicable diseases. And it says research shows that students are more likely to use condoms if they are available in schools but no more likely to be sexually active.

Of course, Pro-Life Wisconsin objects to that, as well.

“High schools should be in the business of facilitating academic excellence- NOT moral decadence. Handing out condoms in schools serves only to aggravate the problem of increased teen sexual activity by sanctioning and therefore, encouraging it. Sexual promiscuity diverts teens’ attention away from their critically important school work. Such a counter intuitive and counter productive approach harms not only the physical health of our youth, but also their emotional, psychological and spiritual health as well."

You would think that with all of this protesting, obstructing and misleading that Pro-Life Wisconsin would be too busy to do much more. But they appear to have endless energy. Their final year end assault is on a local Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, accusing them of not providing accurate medical information to women seeking abortions. The accusation is levied by an undercover video taken as part of the Lila Rose Project Live Action. The video, which is an edited piece without a great deal of background context, is being touted as a sign that the family planning clinic is not adhering to the law in providing scientifically accurate information.

Pro-Life Wisconsin states in their press release:

“Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is the state’s number one abortion provider, both surgical and chemical. Planned Parenthood has proven they do not know, or they care to ignore, basic facts about human development,” said Peggy Hamill, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin. “Our affiliates have prayed and sidewalk counseled at this location for years, and we have seen firsthand the damage caused by this abortion facility.”

The group uses the video to try and cut the clinic’s funding for family planning services, such as birth control, as well as the file complaints against the center. The unspoken desire is also to scare doctors with threats of having their medical licenses revoked, in an attempt to have less people as practitioners. Less practitioners, as always, means less access for all women.

As if they weren’t battling on enough fronts, the anti-choice faction has one more foe to face: the state of Wisconsin. The state legislature in November passed a new law mandating that insurers must cover birth control as part of their coverage. The move makes Wisconsin the 25th state to mandate coverage, and took effect on January 1st. But the Wisconsin Catholic Conference is demanding an exemption from the new law, citing religious freedoms. According to the Watertown Daily Times:

There was opposition from anti-abortion and Catholic groups to requiring contraceptives to be covered under health insurance policies. Opponents argued that birth control is not medically necessary and insurance companies should not be forced to pay for what is a personal decision.

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference is lobbying lawmakers to provide an exemption for religious organizations. “The law does not give adequate deference to our religious values and our religious liberties,” said John Huebscher, executive director of the conference. “It would force dioceses and other Catholic organizations that buy insurance to pay for something they object to.”

There is no word on whether the Conference also wants an exemption for Viagra, plastic surgery, or other "personal decision" medical interventions, nor whether they would consider allowing birth control for those who are prescribed it for medical reasons other than preventing pregnancies.

The rhetoric, tactics and debate seem to be ramping up. What will 2010 bring to the state of Wisconsin? We will be tracking it all year, and are as anxious to find out as you are.

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