Wisconsin State Employees Could Soon Be Without Abortion Coverage

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Wisconsin State Employees Could Soon Be Without Abortion Coverage

Michelle D. Anderson

“The Republicans, both in the state of Wisconsin and at the national level, are making it a priority to take people’s health care away," state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) said. "This is just another attempt to infringe on peoples’ health care. And it’s really another attempt to really demean and harass women."

Wisconsin state employees would have to pay out of pocket for abortion care under a bill sponsored by Republican state legislators.

The measure would prohibit the state’s unelected Group Insurance Board from entering into a health insurance plan contract or providing a “group health insurance plan on a self-insured basis” that covers abortion care.

Wisconsin currently covers abortion care for public employees at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason. The Wisconsin State Journal first reported the lawmakers’ plans on Monday, the same day the bill’s authors released a memo seeking co-sponsorship.

Under the proposed law, employees’ insurance plans would only cover abortion in cases involving rape, incest, or life endangerment.

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State Sen. David Craig (R-Vernon)—a former aide to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan—and Reps. André Jacque (R-De Pere), Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), and Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), are behind the measure.

Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, wrote this month that the bill’s sponsors “collectively received about $1,300 in campaign contributions or outside electioneering support from Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Right to Life, and Wisconsin Family Action between January 2010 and December 2016.”

The new bill, LRB 1727, is similar to a 2013 measure that made its way through the state’s lower chamber but failed to pass in the state senate. Both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature are controlled by Republicans.

In a memo seeking co-sponsorship, the measure’s four sponsors say the bill will provide “equity so that taxpayers are not funding abortions for any group of people in Wisconsin” as a way of “respecting the conscience of state residents.”

“In so doing, Wisconsin will be consistent with its own longstanding prohibition on payments for abortion through Medicaid and its more recent prohibition that any state exchanges set up through Obamacare could not include abortion coverage,” the memo read.

Wisconsin law includes a ban on abortion care at 20 weeks. The state has also banned abortion coverage through Medicaid and in plans offered through the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

Earlier this month, Wisconsin officials cut reproductive health services for transgender state employees. The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds announced on February 1 that it has ended coverage for “procedures, services, and supplies related to surgery and sex hormones associated with gender reassignment,” the Daily Beast reported.

LRB 1727 was being circulated for co-sponsorship as of Thursday, Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) told Rewire in a phone interview.

“The Republicans, both in the state of Wisconsin and at the national level, are making it a priority to take people’s health care away,” Taylor said. “This is just another attempt to infringe on peoples’ health care. And it’s really another attempt to really demean and harass women.”

Taylor said people seeking abortion care because of a medical emergency would be the ones most affected by the bill.

“They’re having an abortion in a hospital because something went seriously wrong with their pregnancies. That’s where you really see expensive costs that women and families might get saddled with,” Taylor said, adding that these procedures are more costly and complicated because they require overnight stays or emergency surgeries.

Taylor said the state’s 20-week abortion ban that passed in 2015 has proven difficult for pregnant people. She recalled the story of a pregnant person who was forced to travel to Illinois and pay out of pocket for abortion care because the provider she used was outside her plan’s network.

The Group Insurance Board covers around 250,000 public-sector employees in Wisconsin and their dependents, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Twenty-one states have laws banning elective abortions under public employees’ insurance plans, according to the Guttmacher Institute and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.