Republican lawmakers this week began circulating a number of bills aimed at regulating abortion services, restricting insurance coverage for abortions and birth control and bolstering constitutional protections for religious groups and activities.
The bills would exempt faith-based groups from the 2009 state law requiring that all insurance policies with a prescription drug benefit also cover prescription contraceptives; ban coverage of abortion services in public employee health plans; and spell out requirements for the disposal of fetal remains.
Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) and Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) also are seeking sponsors for a bill that would allow a mother, father or grandparent of an "unborn child that is aborted in a sex-selective abortion" to sue the physician who performed the abortion.
And Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Rep. Andre Jacque (R-Green Bay) are the lead authors on a proposal to create a special "Choose Life" license plate.
Leibham is also circulating an amendment to the state constitution that he and co-author Rep. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) say is needed to codify state-level protections to prevent religious liberty violations at the state or local level.
"It is clear that eroding religious liberty at the federal, state and local levels points to a need for further protection in our state constitution," Leibham and Kestell wrote in a May 21 email to lawmakers.
Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood), a nurse, says these are not the issues that should top the legislative agenda. "Especially when Wisconsin remains 44th in the nation in job growth, 45th in wage growth and dead last in short-term job growth, it is stunning how Wisconsin Republicans are more interested in blocking access to health care services that women need than focusing on the real issues facing women and Wisconsin families."
Wisconsin Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion organization, also reports on its website that Lazich and Rep. Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) are drafting legislation that would require a woman to view an ultrasound of her fetus before having an abortion. The bill would also require physicians performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said the bill is a priority for this session.
Wisconsin Right to Life also notes that legislation is being drafted that would effectively ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy based on the argument that medical evidence "demonstrates that unborn children are capable of experiencing pain."
These two proposals, as well as the bills to ban sex-selective abortions and abortion coverage from public employee health plans, make up the current legislative agenda for Wisconsin Right to Life.
The group urged supporters in email alerts Wednesday to call their legislators to sign on to these bills.
In other abortion-related legislation this session, Jacque and Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) have introduced a bill that would recognize an unviable fetus as a person and allow families to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for harm to a fetus from the moment of conception on. Jacque has also indicated he would reintroduce his "personhood bill," which would establish a "right to life" in the state constitution even though Wisconsin Right to Life opposes it.
Of the bills being currently circulated, the proposal from Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) regarding the disposal of fetal remains has left some lawmakers perplexed.
"There are already protocols and procedures in place for this," says Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison).
Bies did not return a phone call seeking clarification of his bill, but says in an email to legislators that "this bill isn't about whether or not a person should be able to have an abortion."
Final disposition of the remains, according to the bill, "may be by burial, interment, entombment, cremation, incineration or delivery to a medical or dental school anatomy department as an anatomical gift."
Lisa Brunette, spokeswoman for UW Health, says the bill "may have a negative impact on lines of research that use fetal tissue," but would not likely affect embryonic stem cell research.
She says there are a fewer than a dozen UW researchers whose studies use fetal tissue, which tends to come from national tissue banks that supply research institutions.