In the final days of the 2012 legislative session, Wisconsin lawmakers prioritized approving legislation that further restricts access to quality sexual health information and services for residents. By a vote of 61–34, on Tuesday, March 16, the state Assembly passed SB 237, a repeal of the state’s comprehensive sex education law, the Healthy Youth Act, and SB 92, a bill banning the state’s public health insurance exchange from covering abortion services. Both bills were signed into law by Governor Scott Walker (R) late in the night on Thursday, April 5.
The passage of these two bills follows a slew of policy measures introduced this legislative session aimed at restricting sexual and reproductive health and rights in the state. Among the attacks was an effort to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, weaken the state’s family planning program, cut funding from the state’s health insurance program for low-income and uninsured families, and restrict contraceptive access. “Governor Walker and Republican legislators promised to focus on jobs and the economy but instead have waged an all-out war on women in our state,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck in a statement. “Wisconsin’s working families continue to struggle while Walker and his allies ignore their hardship. Instead, Republicans move forward their extreme social agenda and use the War on Women as a convenient distraction from their failure to address the real needs in our state.”
Passed into law in February 2010, the Healthy Youth Act requires human sexuality instruction provided in schools to be medically accurate, age-appropriate, and comprehensive. Parents have the right to opt their child out of instruction. In addition, schools that choose not to offer sexuality education must make it publicly known by issuing a letter to parents from their school boards. When enacted, the Healthy Youth Act, signed into law by then-governor Jim Doyle (D), replaced the state’s previous abstinence-only-until-marriage requirement.
SB 237 will eliminate the majority of the state’s current requirements for sex education, including the provision that instruction teach the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods for the prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Instead, SB 237 would reestablish a failed abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, requiring instruction to, among other stipulations:
- Present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried pupils;
- Emphasize that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections; and
- Provide instruction in parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage.
Lawmakers supporting the bill argue that the legislation is needed to return local control to school districts. However, in a co-sponsorship email for the bill to fellow legislators, State Senator Mary Lazich (R–District 28) stated its true intention: “The bill puts an end to the practice of outside volunteer health care providers giving instruction in sexual education. Under current law, members of groups such as Planned Parenthood are able to instruct children on contraception and abortion services . . . this is an irresponsible practice that should be reversed.” State law does not require human sexuality instruction to provide information about abortion services. “Repealing common sense policies like the Healthy Youth Act that works to prevent unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] is counterproductive to the health of our youth and the fiscal well-being of our state,” stated a press statement released by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
Along with signing into law a ban on coverage for abortion services and legislation repealing the Healthy Youth Act, on the same night Governor Walker signed into law SB 306—a bill that mandates greater restrictions to abortion access by requiring women seeking an abortion to have a one-on-one medical exam and consultation with a doctor alone, without friends or family. The bill also establishes felony penalties for physicians who break the law. “Walker and his anti-choice Republican colleagues in the state legislature have launched some of the worst attacks on women’s health in a generation,” said Subeck in a separate statement. “[He] has been in office less than 18 months, and already, he has taken women in our state back more than a century.”
Walker and four Republican State Senators will face recall elections in Wisconsin on June 5.After petitioners filed more than 900,000 valid signatures—almost double the required number of signatures for a recall—Governor Walker has become the first governor in the state’s history to face a recall election. The push for Walker’s recall ensued last year after he championed the passage of legislation that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most state employees. The legislation also requires state employees to contribute more to their pensions and health care costs, which results in a cut to their wages. Governor Walker has argued that the legislation was necessary to help balance the state’s budget. Although opponents have argued that its true intention was to weaken the power of unions, which have traditionally supported Democrats. Continuing his attacks on the middle class worker and women, on the same night that Governor Walker signed into law the aforementioned bills to further restrict sexual health rights in the state, he also signed a bill removing protections guaranteeing equal pay for women.
“Governor Walker and Republican legislators promised to focus on jobs and the economy but instead have waged an all-out war on women in our state,” said Subeck. “With recall elections . . . fast approaching, and the November election shortly thereafter, the message is clear. Elections matter, and women will be voting.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, “In Final Days of Legislative Session, More Blows Dealt in War on Women,” Press Release published 16 March 2012, accessed 23 March 2012, <http://www.prochoicewisconsin.org/news/press/201203161.shtml>.
2011 Senate Bill 237, Wisconsin State Legislature, 2011–2012 legislative session, accessed 23 March 2012, <http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/related/proposals/sb237.pdf>.
Andy Kopsa, “Wisconsin Repeals Healthy Youth Act, Bans Women from Buying Private Abortion Coverage,” RH Reality Check, 14 March 2012, accessed 23 March 2012, <http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/03/14/wisconsin-repeals-healthy-youth-act-bans-abortion-coverage-by-private-health-insu>.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, “Republicans Continue to Wage War on Women,” Press Release published 14 March 2012, accessed 23 March 2012, <http://www.ppawi.org/home/news-media/newsroom/press-releases/PR031412.cmsx>.
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, “Statement on Governor Walker Signing Package of Bills Attacking Women and Reproductive Health Care Access,” Press Release published 9 April 2012, accessed 12 April 2012, <http://www.prochoicewisconsin.org/news/press/201204091.shtml>.
Associated Press, “How Wisconsin’s Recall Election Works,” Washington Post, 11 April 2012, accessed 12 April 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/how-wisconsins-recall-election-works/2012/04/11/gIQAozCwAT_story.html>; Monica Davey, “Recall Election for Wisconsin Governor Who Battled Unions,” New York Times, 30 March 2012, accessed 12 April 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/31/us/wisconsin-approves-recall-election-for-governor-walker.html>.
Scott Bauer, “Scott Walker Recall Election Ordered by Government Accountability Board, Huffington Post, 30 March 2012, accessed 12 April 2012, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/scott-walker-recall_n_1391209.html>.
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, “In Final Days of Legislative Session, More Blows Dealt in War on Women.”