The Right To Choose May Help Choose A Governor In Wisconsin

Robin Marty

The Wisconsin governor's race could drastically effect all of the positive changes that have been made to address teen pregnancy, STIs, and general reproductive healthcare.

A lot of progress has been made when it comes to reproductive health in Wisconsin in the last few years, and much of it has occurred with the help of sitting Governor Jim Doyle.  The Healthy Youth Act made public schools accountable for providing comprehensive age-appropriate sex education well before the Obama administration began advocating for more fact-based and less abstinence-only classes in our country’s schools.  And the state has begun making Medicaid funds available to provide birth control for those who are poor and uninsured, helping to reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies down the road.

But all of that progress could hinge on one factor — who wins the governor’s race in November.  With Governor Doyle choosing to not run for reelection, residents are being asked to pick between Republican Scott Walker and Democrat Tom Barrett, and their records on reproductive health couldn’t be more different.

Scott Walker, one of the two gubernatorial recipients of and endorsement from Pro-Life Wisconsin, an anti-choice group that supports eliminating birth control, has a long and historic record of pushing anti-choice bills while in the state legislature. Walker attempted to strip all funding for Planned Parenthood for all services, including family planning and birth control, tried to stop insurance companies from covering birth control, and pushed for a conscience clause to allow pharmacists to opt out of providing birth control to patients.

Tom Barrett, on the other hand, received endorsements from local pro-choice groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, which stated:

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During his ten years in Congress, Tom Barrett voted to require coverage of birth control in insurance plans for federal employees, restore funding for international family planning, rescind the global gag rule, and rescind the ban on abortion for women serving in the military. As Mayor, Barrett has demonstrated his commitment to public health by tackling head-on the challenge of reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates, committing resources to maternal and child health, and investing in public health care programs and services.

Advocates on both sides of the reproductive health issue are making it clear that the governor’s race will have definite repercussions on the landscape of not just choice, but sex ed, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases in the state.  Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Wisconsin’s ban on abortion, which is currently unenforceable, would take effect. Abortion-rights advocates have tried for years to repeal the ban, and anti-abortion groups see protecting the ban as essential.

The Legislature this year rewrote sex education policies to require schools that teach such classes to tell students the benefits and side effects of birth control and how to use it.Opponents hope to repeal the policies in the next legislative session.

Anti-abortion groups are focused on getting the state to opt out of some requirements under the new federal health care reform law in an attempt to ensure taxpayer funds don’t go toward abortion.

Abortion isn’t the only issue Walker and Barrett disagree on.

Family planning. The state provides birth control and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases to those ages 15 to 44 who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. Teenagers don’t need parental consent to obtain birth control or get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Walker told Pro-Life Wisconsin he supports raising the minimum age of the program from 15 to 18, according to Matt Sande, the group’s legislative director. Also, Walker’s spokeswoman, Jill Bader, said Walker believes that parents have the right to approve birth control before it is given to their children.

Barrett supports the existing program because he believes it is an effective and safe way to reduce teen pregnancy, his campaign spokesman said.

The program, which serves more than 54,000, was designed to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases and reduce the numbers of births that are paid for by Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Contraception. Democrats who control the Legislature passed a law last year that requires pharmacists to dispense birth control to people with valid prescriptions.

As a lawmaker, Walker was the lead sponsor of a 2001 bill protecting pharmacists from being disciplined for refusing to dispense emergency contraception on moral grounds. Barrett said he would veto such legislation to ensure women have access to birth control.

In another vote that’s irked his opponents, Walker in 1999 supported legislation that would have allowed small-business owners to opt out of certain types of coverage. This would have included chiropractic and vision coverage, but the bill also would have allowed an employer not to pay for maternity and mammogram coverage, or coverage of breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.

Walker’s position on the legislation is used in a recently released 30-second ad that was paid for by the Democratic-leaning Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.

But Bader said Walker has supported legislation to make it possible for small businesses to offer health plans to more employees. She emphasized that Walker supported the Wisconsin Well Woman Program, which provides health screenings, including for breast and cervical cancer, for women who can’t afford it.

Sex education. Last session, the Legislature passed a law that required schools that teach sex education to provide comprehensive courses that teach students about birth control and how to use it. Barrett supports the law. Walker opposes it, in part because it does not give school districts the option of providing abstinence-only courses.

In April, Walker told the annual convention of Wisconsin Right to Life that Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth “is doing a great job” and called the prosecutor the “100th member of the Assembly,” after Southworth told schools in his county to abandon the new sex education curriculum.

Southworth said the new law, which took effect this fall, could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Critics called that reading of the law ridiculous.

We need to change the law so we don’t put DAs on the spot,” Walker said at the convention.

In essence, Walker is running on an anti-choice platform that guarantees his main focus will be to roll back every advance that the state had made in trying to curb rates of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and over all reproductive healthcare.  And if his handling of the Mental Health Complex under his care as Milwaukee County Executive is any indication, it shouldn’t be expected that Walker would value the needs of women above state cost-cutting.

From The Daily Page:

Walker also approved the “money saving measure” of putting violent male patients in with female patients, with the direct result that the incidences of sexual assault skyrocketed – something then-administrator John Chianelli described as an acceptable “trade-off” to help lower rates of overall violence.

I’m not saying Walker is the only one to blame for the serious problems at the facility – there’s plenty of responsibility to go around – but he sure doesn’t act like someone who is at least partially guilty.

It was only after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a scathing investigative series about the problems at the Mental Health Complex, and an advisory board made recommendations to improve the environment there, that Walker finally conceded to adding more funding for mental health to his budget for next year.

Current polling suggests that the race may be in a virtual deadlock, and as a result both parties are sending their big guns to the state to campaign for their candidates.  Barrett is holding a fundraiser with Vice President Joe Biden not long after a recent visit from President Barrack Obama, and Walker is being propped with visits from Republican presidential hopefuls Haley Barbour, Chris Christie, and Mitt Romney.  Polls have been trending towards Barrett once leaners are included, suggesting that in a year that some expect to be a GOP landslide, Barrett may have a chance to beat the odds.

Still, those who advocate for reproductive health aren’t pinning all of their hopes on a Barrett victory.  They are also making plans on how to keep these newly enacted public health changes in place should Walker win. Most importantly, get them approved and started before the election.

Via Dunn County News:

Family planning advocates hope Wisconsin’s bid to make permanent its expanded birth control services under Medicaid is approved before the Nov. 2 election so the program will be harder to cut if Republican Scott Walker becomes governor.

Wisconsin’s proposed start date for the permanent program is Nov. 1. “It has nothing to do with the election,” said Marlia Moore, a benefits policy administrator for the state Department of Health Services. “It’s just a coincidence.”

But advocates say they hope the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approve the bid by then to codify the program before the election.

“There is definitely an advantage to getting as much done as we can while we still have (Democratic) Gov. (Jim) Doyle in office,” said Nicole Safar, legal and policy analyst for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

Getting approval by Nov. 1, or at least before January when Republicans could take control of the governor’s office, would “hopefully ensure that the program will continue,” said Lon Newman, executive director of Wausau-based Family Planning Health Services.

The progress made in Wisconsin has been a true inspiration in the face of so many other states doing all they can to push abstinence only sex ed, veto family planning budgets, and put up road block after road block in the way of a woman’s right to control her own body.  This election will show the state whether it can continue to move forward, or instead start the backtracking process happening all across the country.

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