News Law and Policy

Wisconsin Repeals Healthy Youth Act, Bans Women From Buying Private Abortion Coverage

Andy Kopsa

In the wee hours of the morning Wednesday the Wisconsin legislature voted to overturn the Healthy Youth Act and to ban private insurance from covering abortion. Rack another one up for the far right in Wisconsin.

In the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, (today, March 14th 2012), the Wisconsin legislature voted to overturn the Healthy Youth Act and to ban private insurance from covering abortion.  This on the heels of the “Mad as Hell” Women Watch, Women Vote rally at the foot of the capital in Madison yesterday that drew over 400 pro-choice, pro-women advocates. 

The insurance ban will eliminate coverage for abortion services in Wisconsin even when individual citizens are using their own dollars to purchase private insurance.  Seeking to wrest “war on women” away from the actual right-wing war on women, Representative Joel Kleefisch (R-38th) said during debate on the insurance ban last night, “There is a war on unborn women,” and “Aborted women have the highest mortality rate.”

Wisconsin’s Healthy Youth Act requires that students receive an abstinence-based, or abstinence-centered education, according to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, and also include medically accurate information about contraception.

Under the guise of “restoring local control to instruction in human growth and development” Senator Mary Lazich (R-District 28) circulated a co-sponsorship email in which she states the clear objective behind the legislation:

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“…The bill puts an end to the practice of outside volunteer health care providers giving instruction in sexual education.  Under current law, members of groups such as Planned Parenthood are able to instruct children on contraception and abortion services… this is an irresponsible practice that should be reversed.”

There is no instruction on abortion services in the Healthy Youth Act.

Nonetheless, repealing it is exactly what the right-wing dominated legislature did.  The repeal of the Healthy Youth Act will not only allow ineffective, faith based abstinence-only-until-marriage back into Wisconsin schools, it also requires schools to apply for federal funds for medically inaccurate, non-evidence based abstinence programming, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.

This will once again open the floodgates in Wisconsin to the multi-billion dollar ideological ab-only industry. Although much has been done to cut federal and state funding to the ineffective programs state block grants and several federal programs still supply millions to ab-only programs each year. 

Senator Lazich didn’t respond to phone calls or visit to her office at the capital in Madison by Rewire. 

On Thursday Wisconsin will take up an “anti-coercion” abortion restriction bill AB 371.  The bill has nothing to do with purportedly protecting women from coercive abortion but everything to do with banning tele-med abortion care in Wisconsin.  This despite the fact tele-med wasn’t even in the offing in Wisconsin. 

Iowa is currently the only state practicing tele-med care and the program has been successful at increasing access to abortion care for women living in rural areas and areas with no reproductive health clinics nearby. 

Tanya Atkinson of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin said of reduced abortion access and the impact of AB 371 “An inconvenient truth about abortion is that when safe, legal abortion is unavailable, women die.”

Both the HYA repeal and insurance coverage ban will go to Governor Walker’s desk for signature.  

News Abortion

Wisconsin Democrats Push Back Against GOP’s Abortion ‘Junk Science’ [Audio]

Jenn Stanley

The Patients Reproductive Health Act would support Wisconsin women and physicians in accessing and providing a full spectrum of reproductive health services.

Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers, women’s health advocates, and health-care professionals on Thursday introduced a bill to protect access to reproductive health services in the face of a GOP-led onslaught against abortion access.

In a state where access to reproductive health care is quickly disappearing, the Patients Reproductive Health Act aims to give doctors the option of providing medically accurate information and necessary services to women without obstruction and discrimination.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) unveiled the unprecedented legislation at a press conference at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

The Patients Reproductive Health Act would support Wisconsin women and physicians in accessing and providing a full spectrum of reproductive health services. Though the bill has little hope of passing in the state’s current GOP-led legislature, it aims to bring awareness to the disappearing rights of women and physicians in the state.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Rewire spoke to some of the authors of the act before Thursday’s press conference at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Dr. Douglas Laube, former president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, talks about the bill's focus on the doctor-patient relationship. (Jenn Stanley/Rewire)

Dr. Douglas Laube, former president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, talks about the bill’s focus on the doctor-patient relationship. (Jenn Stanley/Rewire)

“In the last four years, we have seen Republicans introduce, pass, and sign into law several bills that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship,” Erpenbach said. “The goal of our legislation is to ensure that all patients in Wisconsin have access to comprehensive, evidence-based health care. It’s time for politicians to get out of the exam room.”

The bill would end the forced waiting periods and mandatory counseling laced with inaccurate information pushed by Republican legislators. It would also criminalize patient and doctor harassment, violence, and intimidation.

“When someone walks into their doctor’s office they should feel comfortable with their doctor and confident that the information they receive is based on medically accurate information—free from wacky junk science,” Taylor said. “Questions and answers with our doctors should be based in face, not the agenda of politicians.”

With the recent bombardment of anti-choice legislation, it is harder than ever for Wisconsin women to access reproductive health care. Even doctors who want to provide abortion often can’t due to these restrictions.

Planned Parenthood successfully blocked a law in 2013 that would have required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinic. Gov. Scott Walker (R) in July signed an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban into law, making Wisconsin the 15th state to pass such a ban.

SB 179 criminalizes performing or inducing an abortion at or beyond 20 weeks’ fertilization. The state mandates in-person counseling at least 24 hours before an abortion. Much of what is said to women in the counseling session is medically inaccurate, and the forced waiting period is a burden for women traveling long distances for their abortions.

Abortion services are only available in Madison and Milwaukee after the recent suspension of abortion services at Planned Parenthood’s Appleton North Health Center. There is now one abortion provider for everyone million Wisconsin women.

Wisconsin GOP lawmakers in 2012 required that students receive an abstinence-based, or abstinence-centered education free from any mention of abortion. Republicans also banned private insurance from covering abortion care in 2012.

The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health helped draft the Patients Reproductive Health Act. Sara Finger, the group’s executive director, told Rewire that the situation in Wisconsin right now is dire.

“There is a complete disconnect right now between the state legislators that occupy our state capitol and the women across the state. They are living in a bubble right now,” Finger said. “They are passing policies that are completely in opposition to the values and needs of women in this state, and they are doing it in opposition and complete disrespect to the medical community.”

News Abortion

NARAL Offers a Place to Stay for Wisconsin Women Seeking Abortion Care

Jenn Stanley

A new program connects patients with trained volunteers who offer private rooms, home-cooked meals, and emotional support for women on the nights surrounding their clinic visit.

The Wisconsin GOP’s anti-choice legislative agenda is making the state an increasingly difficult place to access reproductive health care.

The temporary suspension of abortion services at Planned Parenthood’s Appleton North Health Center has left only three clinics in the state, one in Madison and two in Milwaukee. But NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin last week announced a host program that supports women seeking abortion services, like an Airbnb for reproductive health.

Patient Stays Wisconsin connects patients with trained and screened volunteers who offer private rooms, home-cooked meals, and emotional support for women on the nights surrounding their clinic visit. NARAL does not have direct contact with patients, and all referrals come through direct contact with clinics.

Wisconsin mandates in-person “counseling” and a 24-hour forced waiting period for people seeking abortions. That means that women traveling long distances to receive care must stay overnight to accommodate their two visits to the clinic.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

When patients call to schedule an abortion in Madison, the clinic gives them the option of staying with a NARAL host. The service is only available in Madison, but the group hopes to expand to Milwaukee after the six-month pilot program.

“The temporary closing of the Appleton clinic makes our program even more relevant, as women will be coming from farther distances from northern Wisconsin and [Michigan’s] Upper Peninsula,” Jessica VanEgeren, a board member and vice chair at NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, told Rewire.

Along with lifting some of the financial burden for women seeking abortion care (this program is free of charge), VanEgeren said she hopes that the offer of hospitality will help remove some of the patients’ emotional stress. 

“Women can either stay in their rooms or interact with the host,” VanEgeren said. “We even serve breakfast.”

“All women have a right to access abortion should they need to. They also have a right to feel safe and supported while they do so,” Eliza Cussen, chair of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Patient Stays Wisconsin is not just about increasing convenience, it’s about showing women that they have dignity and are deserving of compassionate care when they exercise their right to choose.”

Some in Wisconsin are disappointed that the service will not be immediately available in Milwaukee, where Wendie Ashlock, clinic director at Affiliated Medical Services, told Rewire that the need is high.

Affiliated Medical Services is the only independent abortion provider in the state, and it’s the only clinic that will perform abortions after 19 weeks’ gestation. Ashlock said that she believes things will only get worse for Wisconsin women as the GOP-majority state legislature pushes its anti-choice agenda. If the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upholds the law that Wisconsin doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the facility where they practice, then Affiliated Medical Services will be forced to close.

State residents’ reproductive rights took another blow when Wisconsin Republicans this summer passed an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban.

“There’s a lack of services available to women because of the constant attack from the legislature when it comes to reproductive health choices, and we have more and more attacks coming our way,” Ashlock said. “There’s the 20-week ban, so as of February 1, we will no longer be able to perform the procedure at 20 weeks. So that’s certainly going to limit services to women in Wisconsin, particularly those whose [pregnancies present] genetic anomalies.”