As anti-abortion advocates put pressure on Wisconsin lawmakers to pass a bill banning research on aborted fetal tissue, a top Senate Republican says it's uncertain whether it will be brought to the Senate floor by the end of the legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said there's a wide gap between GOP senators who want to pass the bill in its current form and those who are concerned it could have a "chilling effect" on research, particularly research being conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Early on, I was telling some people it’s definitely something that will be completed before we adjourn," Fitzgerald said in an interview with the Cap Times. "I’ve kind of dialed back on that a little bit, because I’m starting to see that the gap is a little bit wider than I thought. It’s going to take some real compromise. But getting to compromise is going to be difficult, because there’s a pretty wide gap there."
Senate Republicans discussed the fetal tissue bill along with two others targeting funding for abortion providers in caucus last week. Fitzgerald said he expects votes on the other two bills, which would place limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program and 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.
The second of the two funding proposals was passed by the Assembly in September.
Pro-life organizations and the legislators behind the bills plan to hold a Rally for Life Tuesday on the Capitol steps, urging lawmakers to pass all three.
Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action also announced last week that they will sponsor TV ads urging Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to schedule a vote for Assembly Bill 305, the ban on fetal tissue research. Pro-Life Wisconsin legislative director Matt Sande said the ads are specifically calling on Vos because the organizations know the Assembly has the votes to pass the bill.
Vos told Wisconsin Public Radio last month there is support in the Assembly GOP caucus to pass the bill, but he wants to ensure its passage wouldn't halt life-saving research.
"I don't know of anybody who wants it to pass as-is. I’m sure some votes would be there for it … but there’s also a real concern about hampering, just putting a chilling effect on the research piece," Fitzgerald said. "The UW, as they make their rounds here in the Capitol, talking to legislators, they’ve been making the case in many different ways, and some of that is related just to lost revenue that the UW may experience, but also trying to make the case that it could freeze out even some researchers from working at UW research. So we’re continuing to talk about it."
The proposal is an updated version of a 2013 bill that would ban the "sale, transfer or experimentation" of fetal body parts. It faces opposition from the scientific and medical research communities, despite an amendment aimed at allaying those concerns.
Supporters of the research ban say parents of aborted children cannot provide consent to donate the fetus for scientific use. Opponents argue the legislation would cause an "immediate disruption" in life-saving research being conducted on cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, and would drive bioscience companies out of Wisconsin.
At the national level, Planned Parenthood announced in October that it will no longer accept reimbursement for fetal tissue it gives to medical researchers.