Wisconsin Assembly passes abortion, sex ed. billsThe state Assembly passed bills limiting insurance coverage for abortions and requiring schools to teach abstinence during a late-night session that lasted until Wednesday morning as they pushed to tie up pending legislation.
By: Scott Bauer, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Assembly passed bills limiting insurance coverage for abortions and requiring schools to teach abstinence during a late-night session that lasted until Wednesday morning as they pushed to tie up pending legislation.
The Legislature was poised to adjourn Thursday without passing its two highest priorities coming into the year: a mining bill to help create hundreds of jobs in northern Wisconsin and a measure pumping money into venture capital to help spur new business creation.
Instead, lawmakers spent the early morning hours Wednesday fighting over abortion rights and sex education. The Assembly also passed a bill creating the state's first wolf hunting season.
Democrats decried the abortion and sex education bills as part of a national war on women, but they didn't have the votes to stop them.
Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, said voters expected the Legislature to focus on improving the economy and creating jobs.
"They feel let down," Seidel said. "And what are we doing in these last hours to get that important work done? We are arguing about advancing an extreme social agenda that is nothing about that."
The Republican-controlled Assembly voted 60-34 to pass a bill that would require schools to teach abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The measure, backed by Pro-Life Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, also allows schools to teach abstinence-only classes, which was banned under a 2010 law passed by Democrats. No contraception education would be required.
Opponents include Planned Parenthood and the Wisconsin Medical Society. Assembly Democrats argued that changing the sex education law would increase the risk of more sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies and other problems for young people. Bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said the measure gives schools more freedom over their sex education instruction.
"This is about local control," Thiesfeldt said.
The bill passed the Senate in November and now heads to Gov. Scott Walker.
The Assembly also voted 61-34 on Tuesday night to pass another proposal that would ban abortion coverage from policies obtained through a health insurance exchange to be set up under the federal health care reform law starting in 2014. The bill previously passed the Senate and now heads to Walker.
Rep. Joan Ballweg, a Republican sponsor of the bill, told stories about her own miscarriages and the death of a baby born to her prematurely 20 years ago. She urged everyone to understand the strong feelings of those who supported the measure.
"It's not a war, it's what we believe wholeheartedly," she said to a silent Assembly chamber after describing her personal loss. "I would hope you respect that. We have different opinions."
Democrats argued that government should not be telling women which abortions can be covered and which cannot.
"Keep government out of the bedroom and the doctor's office," said Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison.
The federal health care law allows states to prohibit abortions under the exchange, which is to be a marketplace for small businesses and individuals to shop for health insurance coverage. Under the bill, abortions would not be covered under policies sold through the exchange except in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is at risk.
Under the federal health care law, federally subsidized health care plans can offer abortion coverage, but they have to set up separate accounts to segregate federal funds from funds that can be used for abortion coverage.
Another bill up for an Assembly vote would require a doctor to give a woman a physical exam and be in the room with her when handing out drugs to induce an abortion. It also would require doctors to speak privately with women at least 24 hours before performing an abortion to determine whether they had been coerced into having the procedure done. Doctors who break the law could be charged with a felony.
Proponents say it's designed to ensure women aren't pressured into getting an abortion and that doctors aren't doing consultations remotely via webcams. But opponents argue that given that webcam consultations aren't currently done in Wisconsin, the true intent is to make it harder to get an abortion.
The Assembly planned to complete its work Thursday. The Senate was expected to wrap up Wednesday.