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Wisconsin Senate Prepares to Vote on Abortion and Contraception Restrictions (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

The Wisconsin Senate is set to vote on two anti-choice bills that would ban sex-selective abortion, prohibit the state insurance program for public employees from covering abortions, and exempt religious organizations from providing contraceptive coverage in employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

UPDATE, November 11, 10:20 a.m.: The Capital Times reports that the bills “are not scheduled to be taken up by the state Senate Tuesday, as many had anticipated,” though the bills could still be added to the schedule at the last minute. Tuesday is the last day of this year’s legislative session in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved two anti-choice bills Thursday in a 3-2 vote.

SB 201 would ban sex-selective abortions in the state. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Executive Director Jenni Dye, her organization has not seen evidence of sex-selective abortion in the state, though SB 201’s sponsors claim the practice is prevalent among some populations. “Regardless of whether or not there is evidence, the bill itself is flawed,” Dye told Rewire. “Instead of focusing on gender inequalities in our society, this bill creates a cause of action against abortion providers. What we need to do is address culture pressure, by promoting policies that address gender inequality.”

Many of the same legislators who introduced SB 201 voted for the the repeal of the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to sue employers.

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SB 202 is a two-pronged piece of legislation that would ban Wisconsin’s insurance program for public employees from covering abortions, and would exempt religious organizations from providing contraceptives under employee-sponsored health insurance plans. The bill includes an amendment that would allow employees of religious organizations to have contraception coverage if it is prescribed for a medical reason other than preventing pregnancy, though the employee must request such coverage from her employer.

One of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere), told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he is against the state providing insurance coverage for abortion because he doesn’t believe abortion is a legitimate health-care need. “Elective abortions, which I don’t consider to be health care … would not be subsidized for public employees,” he said.

“At a basic level, they are making a claim about religious freedom,” said Dye. “However, in reality we see that this is an attack on basic health care for women.” Dye also noted that covering contraception makes fiscal sense. “We are seeing that access to contraceptives creates cost savings because women are able to prevent unwanted pregnancies. So it’s unclear if there is even an additional monetary cost in covering contraceptives.”

The bills are likely to be voted on by the full state senate Tuesday. But State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) told the Journal Sentinel that there would be “all out hell” next week if senate Republicans take up the bills. The scene could be a repeat of when the bills were passed in June by the assembly. There has been no public hearings on the bills, despite the addition of amendments.

Dye sees the push for this legislation as part of a broader attack on reproductive rights. “It’s part of a steady attempt to roll back where Wisconsin has been with access to reproductive health,” she said. “This is part of a series of attempts to make it more difficult and more costly for women to access basic reproductive health care. It really undermines women’s ability to make meaningful decisions about their health care because if they don’t have access they don’t have options.”

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