* indicates required
Thursday - April 20, 2017 12:43 am

Wisconsin lawmakers consider bill banning abortion coverage

Written by

State requires plans cover only therapeutic abortions.

MADISON, Wis. — Opposition grew Wednesday to a Republican-backed bill that would prohibit Wisconsin state health insurance from covering abortions for state workers, further clouding its prospects despite GOP control of the Legislature.

The proposal didn't have enough support to pass in 2013, and even if it clears the even more Republican Legislature this year the impact of such a ban could be minimal.

That's because the state currently requires health plans to cover only therapeutic abortions for its members. How those are defined is left up to the health plan, but they generally are only those considered to be medically necessary, said Nancy Ketterhagen, spokeswoman for the Department of Employee Trust Funds, which administers state worker benefits.

The state doesn't know how many abortions are covered currently because that information is not collected, she said.

The bill would build upon current abortion restrictions in state law. It is already illegal for abortions to be paid for through the state's Medicaid program or on plans sold through state exchanges established under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Bill sponsors said it was necessary to clarify state law since what constitutes a medically necessary abortion isn't defined. One of them, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, stressed that the measure wouldn't prevent state employees from obtaining an abortion, they just couldn't use their state health insurance to pay for it.

"Directly or indirectly, no taxpayer dollars should ever fund a single abortion," said Chelsea Shields, lobbyist for Wisconsin Right to Life, in testimony to the Assembly's Health Committee. Her group joined with Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action in supporting the measure.

The bill's opposition grew Wednesday, with the Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault joining Planned Parenthood and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health against it.

Opponents argued that the ban amounted to politicians making medical decisions for women because it creates a roadblock for some people getting an abortion.

"My god, we want women to be able to get the care we need," said Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison. "I would think we all want that. ... Leave these decisions to the professionals."

The 2013 bill banning state health insurance coverage of most abortions passed the Assembly but died in the Senate due to opposition from Democrats and indifference from Republican leaders.

Gov. Scott Walker in 2013 did not make the bill a priority and Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach promised "all out hell" if it and other anti-abortion measures were brought up.

"Governor Walker is focused on Wisconsin's economy and getting the state budget done," his spokesman Tom Evenson said Wednesday, echoing his comments from four years ago.

The Republican majority in the Senate is larger now — they have a seven-seat advantage compared to just three in 2013 — and the bill's backers are hoping that will ease its passage. Eight of the Senate's 20 Republicans are signed on as co-sponsors.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokeswoman Myranda Tanck did not immediately reply to a message.

Under the proposal, the state's Group Insurance Board would be prohibited from entering into a contract for health insurance that provides abortion services. The prohibition would also exist if the state moves to a self-insurance model, as Walker is proposing. The only exceptions would be in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is at risk.

Twenty-one other states already have similar laws.

Associated Press

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.