State News

Wisconsin Legislature debates two separate abortion bills

The state Assembly passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit state insurance programs from covering the cost of induced abortions except in certain circumstances.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Wisconsin state Legislature considered two separate bills surrounding abortion Thursday, one that would prohibit state health insurance programs from covering workers’’ abortions and another that would restrict fetal tissue research.

The state Assembly passed a bill 61-35 that would require the state to only cover the cost of an abortion as part of a state worker’s health insurance program in cases that are “medically necessary,” such as rape, incest and life-threatening circumstances.

The law, however, is unclear about what exactly medically necessary means, which sponsors of the new bill aim to tighten up.

"This is really making sure essentially that state taxpayers are not paying for elective abortions, period," one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, told The Cap Times.

The state Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety also held a public hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 423, which would place restrictions on the use of fetal tissue obtained by induced abortions as part of medical research.

Proponents of the bill say they don’t have an issue with fetal tissue research, but rather with using fetal tissue from induced abortions for that research.

Opponents of the bill say restricting fetal tissue research would disrupt important research pertaining to cancer, Alzheimer's and other fatal diseases. The University of Wisconsin Medical School uses fetal tissue for research in those fields.

Using fetal cells and tissue is already heavily regulated under both federal law and UW-Madison’s institutional policies. UW-Madison strictly complies with all federal research regulations and opposes profiting from fetal tissue sales, according to UW Health.

Banning fetal tissue research, however, would be “detrimental,” according to medical school officials.

“We strongly urge the state Legislature to reject a ban on fetal tissue research in Wisconsin,” said Lisa Brunette, spokesperson for UW Health. “The ban would be devastating to the remarkable opportunity we have to develop new, lifesaving vaccines, therapies and cures that will benefit patients across Wisconsin.”

Republicans have begun offering competing proposals on the bill restricting fetal tissue research, such as a proposal to only ban the sale of fetal tissue and put regulations stem cell research on fetal tissue obtained since January 2017.

Previously, anti-abortion proposals have been unable to generate enough support due to large groups of opponents and difficulty among Republicans leaders to reach a consensus.

It is unsure as to whether Republicans will be able to come to an agreement on which direction to take. Although the fetal tissue bill received a public hearing in the Senate, there is currently no scheduled vote on the calendar.

The state Legislature has limited time to pass both bills since the legislative session is coming to a close and lawmakers will not return to vote until January. 

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