On February 18, Wisconsin Republicans finalized another big move against women's access to health care. At a Milwaukee clinic specializing in abortion "alternatives," Scott Walker signed into law two bills that together strip the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics of an estimated $7.5 million in federal funding. One prevents Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X family planning funds, diverting the money to other groups at the discretion of the state Department of Health Services. The second restricts Planned Parenthood from being fully reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program.
Back in early Februay when the bills were being debated on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, took her Republican colleagues to task for throwing up more hurdles to women’s access to basic health care and for “caving in” yet again to anti-choice interests. “Thousands of families already lack health care services, especially in rural communities and now you are going to make it worse,” she said. “This is not what Wisconsin families are asking for.”
Senator Jennifer Schilling
Shilling noted that Wisconsin lost five Planned Parenthood clinics providing general health services in 2014 after Governor Scott Walker cut state funding for organizations providing abortions. “You know who replaced them?” she asked. “No one. No one stepped up.”
Targeting Planned Parenthood jeopardizes cancer screening, wellness checkups and other routine health care for thousands of people, especially lower-income women, Shilling noted. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health care services to about 60,000 men and women a year in Wisconsin.
Noting Governor Walker's choice of location for signing the bills into law, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin director of government relations Nicole Safar told CBS news, "It really is disingenuous to be talking about cuts to health care at an organization that provides religious counseling, but no health care."
The law restricting Planned Parenthood’s prescription drug reimbursements (cagily titled, “Billing the Medical Assistance Program for Prescription Drugs by Certain Entities”) was challenged by some Democratic senators as likely unconstitutional because it applies to only one organization (Planned Parenthood) among dozens that are routinely reimbursed for drugs covered by Medicare. Planned Parenthood has stated that legal action is "certainly on the table."
Bills like this wouldn’t be introduced if the men who wrote them had to walk in women’s shoes, said Shilling during debate on the Senate floor: “Birth control, for men, you can go to a truck stop. You can go to a gas station. You can go to a big box store. We, women, we have to to go to a pharmacist. We have to go to a health center.”
Shilling, in an interview with The Progressive, said she didn’t think it mattered at all to her Republican colleagues that Planned Parenthood was exonerated of wrongdoing in the fake scandal created by anti-abortion activists alleging that the group was involved in the sale of baby parts. (In fact, criminal charges have been leveled against the anti-abortion activists.) "They're on a mission," she said.
Planned Parenthood in recent years has been the focus of increasing legislative attacks across the country. Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed hundreds of laws to create and extend waiting periods before abortion, require the involvement of one or both parents, increasing physical clinic and staffing requirements, and otherwise raise barriers to abortion, and by extension general reproductive care and family planning.
“This a message to people everywhere that we can’t take access to abortion and health care for granted,” Shilling said. “We need to educate young women who never went through the fight before, about the importance of standing up and protecting their rights.”
According to the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin website, since taking office Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has:
- Passed 12 policies that restrict women’s access to health information, essential care, and pay equity.
- Signed five abortion restrictions that take away services and threaten doctors with prison time for providing safe and legal abortion.
- Authorized the state to spend taxpayer money to appeal two ongoing lawsuits despite conclusive court rulings.
Now they can add two more policies to that list.
Mrill Ingram is online media editor for The Progressive.