Contraception is part of the reproductive rights debate in Wisconsin, as Dobbs anniversary nears
It's been nearly a year since the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade protections for abortion rights. Part of the reproductive battle in Wisconsin has now turned to protecting access to contraception, and pharmacists are part of the discussion.
The Dobbs decision by the nation's high court handed over more abortion regulation powers to the states, and an 1849 law banning almost all abortions in Wisconsin took effect. We're still waiting for a ruling from a Dane County judge on a legal challenge to that law and an expected appeal to the State Supreme Court, perhaps by August when liberals have a 4-3 court majority.
Meanwhile, Democratic state lawmakers have introduced what they're calling "the Right to Contraception Act," which would protect access to condoms, birth control pills and IUD's.
Rep. Dora Drake (D-Milwaukee) spoke in favor of the measure Wednesday at a State Capitol news conference.
"If we're serious about family planning, about ensuring our mothers and our families have the resources and access reproductive health care, this bill is a step in the right direction that needs to happen now. If we're serious about making sure our families, our mothers and our babies are healthy, we need to make sure our politicians do not interfere with deciding if they should have access to reproductive health care, or not," Drake said.
No Republicans were at the news conference, and given GOP control of the legislature, the Democrats measure may face an uphill battle.
But later Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats in the State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for contraceptives like the pill, and hormone patches.
A key author of the measure, Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) explained how he believes the pharmacy process would work.
"When a woman goes to the pharmacist, she will fill out a questionnaire. If there are any red flags on that, they send them to their doctor. They'll also do a blood pressure screening because blood clots are the primary bad side effect from birth control. If that shows a problem, they will also go to the physician," Kitchens said on the Assembly floor.
The contraception bill passed 82-11. An opponent, Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) told the Assembly he was quoting clergy from the 1960's when oral contraceptives were first approved in the U.S.
"And they said it opens up the door to marital infidelity, and it did," Wichgers said his comments provoking a little laughter from some other lawmakers.
"You can laugh and mock, but you're laughing and mocking not me but these are pretty profound leaders, well-written and well-versed, and very sincere. And they feed their flock," Wichgers said.
The contraception bill still needs approval from the State Senate. Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) says the Senate's recent history on earlier versions of the measure is not promising.
"This bill has been a showpiece in the Assembly that has gotten zero movement in the Senate. We have not seen the broad buy-in it needs for the bill to pass. In my mind, is it real, or is it for show in the Assembly?" Subeck said.
WUWM asked the office of State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) for a reply. But we haven't heard back.
The contraception debate is hardly the only reproductive rights discussion ahead of the one year anniversary of the Dobbs decision. There is also a strong political aspect.
Democrats have unveiled a billboard in Milwaukee promoting the support of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris for a woman's right to choose an abortion. Democrats also plan a State Capitol news conference Thursday morning, outlining their view of the stakes for abortion access in next year's elections.
Meanwhile demonstrations supporting— and opposing—abortion rights are expected across the U.S. over the next few days.
Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye.