MADISON, Wis. — It would be harder and more expensive to get an abortion in Wisconsin under several bills being circulated by Republican lawmakers.
The legislators are seeking sponsors for three measures prohibiting the use of public money to pay for abortion coverage in public employees' health insurance plans, relieve certain religious organizations and employers from having to provide coverage for contraceptive pills, ban abortion for gender selection and require doctors to properly dispose of fetal remains.
Lawmakers are already considering abortion-related bills that would ban the sale of fetal tissue or its use in medical research and allow parents to sue if their unborn child died as a result of someone else's wrongdoing. The latter bill is largely aimed at doctors responsible for treating pregnant women.
Abortion-rights groups in Wisconsin said the new proposals are just "the tip of the iceberg," as anti-abortion activists continue to push for restrictions on abortions and their funding. Other states also are seeing an increase in anti-abortion legislation. North Dakota and Arkansas this year enacted some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed bills into law last session that bar health insurance plans sold through exchanges set up under the new health care law from covering abortion, require women to receive strict state-directed counseling before abortion, and ban the use of telemedicine in performing the service.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Walker will evaluate the new bills once they pass the Legislature.
Those opposed to the legislation include Democratic lawmakers and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
"Wisconsin women are more than capable of making their own health care decisions," Planned Parenthood executive director Tanya Atkinson said in a statement. "Women don't turn to politicians for advice about birth control, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in women's personal medical decisions about her pregnancy."
Rep. Sandy Pasch, D- Shorewood, a nurse, issued a statement criticizing the bills as "yet another attempt by Republicans to distract voters not only from their abysmal record on jobs and wages, but also the fact that their current state budget will jeopardize health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites - including pregnant women and children."
The bill barring the use of public money to pay for abortion coverage in public employees' health insurance plans was put forward by Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere. It includes exceptions for insurance plans to pay for abortion in cases of rape, incest or where the mother's life or long-term health is in danger.
"Wisconsin should not violate the consciences of its citizens by forcing their or their organization's tax dollars or other funds to be used contrary to their faith and moral values," Jacque said in a memo attached to the bill.
Eighteen states already ban insurance coverage for abortion for public employees, said Sue Armacost, legislative director of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life, which is backing two of the bills. Those laws, however, conflict with federal law, which requires almost all employers — including hospitals, schools and charities with religious affiliations — to cover abortion in their health plans.
Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, said that if Jacque's bill passed, it would likely result in a lawsuit similar to one filed over Missouri law passed last year. That case is still pending in federal court.
Jacque's bill also would allow religious employers to refuse to cover contraceptive pills in their insurance plans. State law currently requires all employers to provide plans that cover contraception. The only way employers can avoid the requirement is to self-insure, setting aside a pool of money to deal with health claims.
Four states are considering similar limits on coverage for contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Armacost said self-insurance isn't a real alternative in most cases because it's expensive and results in reduced coverage and increased costs for employees.
The bill banning abortions because parents want a child of a particular gender comes from Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan.
Similar bills are being considered in 12 other states and already passed this year in Kansas and North Dakota. Three states — Arizona, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania — already had such law in place.
Armacost said abortion for gender selection used to exist mostly in Asian countries but is now being seen in the U.S., mostly among parents who want boys. Planned Parenthood did not dispute the issue.
Armacost did not weigh in on the proposal from Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, which would require physicians who perform an abortion to arrange for the remains to be buried, cremated or delivered to medical institutes as anatomical gifts.
Fetal remains are generally treated as medical waste and providers must follow state regulations, Nash said. She said Bies' bill could raise abortion providers' cost with no real benefit to women's health.
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