(UPDATE: On Thursday, Sept. 24, the state Assembly approved the bill on a 60-35 vote, with all Republicans voting in favor, and all Democrats against. The item now heads to the state Senate.)
Under a Republican bill, the state of Wisconsin would apply for federal Title X funding and direct it away from Planned Parenthood. Title X covers the cost of reproductive health care for low-income people, including contraception and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.
For 40 years, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has successfully bid for the state’s Title X money. While it cannot pay for abortions, Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action doesn’t like the fact that Planned Parenthood provides them in other cases and has been accused of marketing fetal tissue.
"We believe it is very important that the money be directed away from an organization like Planned Parenthood that performs and refers for abortion and given to health providers who do not perform abortions or refer for abortions. We want to make sure there is a bright line here,” Appling says.
The state would redirect much of the family planning money to the Wisconsin Well-Woman Program. It would have to significantly expand to take over for Planned Parenthood because the well-woman program's primary mission is to screen women ages 45 to 64 for breast and cervical cancer.
Director Gail Johnson says the state has also consolidated offices, scaling back from one in every county to about a dozen.
“As of July first, we have multi-jurisdictional coordinating agencies. That means, instead of a coordinating agency being responsible for just one county, now the agency is responsible for multiple counties. For instance, we may have one (coordinating agency) responsible for only two counties, but another may be responsible for as many as nine or 10 counties," Johnson says.
Otherwise, the bill directs much of the Title X money to local health departments. Supporters say it makes sense for every county to house services because Planned Parenthood has only 22 offices across the state.
Nicole Safar, director of governmental relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, says the bill’s sponsors obviously haven’t talked with the public health agencies because they and her group work in tandem to provide health services for women.
"What this bill is is a continued political attack on Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, the authors seem very focused on trying to hurt Planned Parenthood, and they refuse to acknowledge the fact that the people they are hurting are the women we serve - 60,000 patients in the state,” Safar says.
Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance of Women’s Health, says even if a different Wisconsin entity wins the next round of Title X funding, the recipient cannot water down the goal of the program.
"It’s incredibly frustrating to watch these legislative initiatives get passed and then be likely to be challenged at some point, pieces of legislation that should never have been introduced because they’re not in line with what Wisconsin women need and what Wisconsin’s health care community advises,” Finger says.
While Finger believes supporters of Planned Parenthood are on the right side of public opinion, Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action insists most taxpayers want the state to decide which agencies provide appropriate health care, including for family-planning purposes.
Generally, either the state or women's health providers seek and win Title X funding.
People on both sides of the issue testified Wednesday, at a public hearing in Madison.