By Jesse Opoien, The Capital Times
Wisconsin lawmakers in the state Assembly voted on Thursday to block Planned Parenthood from receiving $3.5 million in federal funds. The proposal now awaits Senate action.
The bill is one of three introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere tied to a larger debate over abortion.
The bill, passed on a party-line vote, would prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X funds, diverting the money to other groups at the discretion of the state Department of Health Services. Another would place limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program and the third would ban research conducted on fetal tissue obtained from abortions.
Democrats say the Title X bill would restrict access to reproductive health services throughout the state, while Republicans argue just the opposite.
Jacque said the result will be more resources for a broader network of health care providers serving all Wisconsinites' interests, not just those of one interest group. He argued the bill is an effort to end Planned Parenthood's "monopoly" on the funds.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, delivered her maiden speech on the Assembly floor in support of the bill. She said Planned Parenthood shouldn't receive government funds, arguing that it encourages "young women with promiscuous lifestyles."
"Planned Parenthood is nothing more than a maintenance garage that treats women like sex objects," Brandtjen said. "Women need access to real health care. Let’s get that done."
Brandtjen argued that the funds would be better directed to the Wisconsin Well Woman Program and county health departments, while Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, countered that the Well Woman Program only serves women ages 45-64.
The bill would prevent any abortion providers from receiving the federal funds. It would direct the funds toward the Well Woman Program and public health programs, with any remaining money given to nonprofits.
“Our taxpayer dollars should not prop up entities that do not adhere to one of the basic principles of medicine, do no harm. Planned Parenthood is in the business of abortion, period," said Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc. "These grant dollars are meant to promote public health and improve medical access. Funneling the money to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates means our tax dollars are being used to actively terminate human life, not promote or improve public health.”
Under federal law, Title X money must fund family planning and contraceptives, STD testing and breast and cervical cancer screening. It is not allowed to be spent on abortions, but supporters of the bill argue that when Planned Parenthood spends federal money on family planning services and screenings, money is freed up to fund abortion services.
“The goal behind this defunding measure is to block Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers from receiving these funds leaving thousands without access to reproductive health care,” said Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “PPWI has been a strong steward of the Title X funds for over 35 years. Over the last four decades, our health care professionals and partners have developed the infrastructure to effectively deliver affordable health care to those in need. The Department of Health Services has been clear that it does not have a plan for how to absorb the 50,000 patients who are served currently by Title X clinics.”
Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, argued that the bill's stated intent doesn't reflect its "very real consequences or costs."
"What will it take for you to put the citizens of Wisconsin, your constituents' lives, before some ideological talking point" Hintz asked of his Republican colleagues.
The debate was impassioned and, at times, medically descriptive. A group of fourth graders touring the Capitol were introduced to lawmakers shortly after a speech detailing the abundance of sexually transmitted diseases in the Milwaukee area.
Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, said organizations like Planned Parenthood should be supported, not attacked, in an effort to make sex as safe as possible.
"We wouldn’t be here if there was no sex," he quipped.
Gov. Scott Walker touted his elimination of Planned Parenthood's state funding — done in 2011 — during his time on the presidential campaign trail. A frequent applause line as he courted Republican primary voters was his boast that Wisconsin defunded Planned Parenthood several years ago, long before the release of a controversial series of undercover videos targeting the organization.
Walker has said he supports the bill.