Wisconsin anti-abortion advocates are urging state lawmakers to pass a trio of bills targeting fetal tissue research and funding for abortion providers before the end of this legislative session.
Two pro-life organizations have launched a television advertising campaign to encourage legislative action on the fetal tissue research ban. However, it was reported Monday that at least two TV stations have refused to air the ads during prime viewing times. Pro-life organizations and the legislators behind the bills also have a Rally for Life scheduled for Jan. 12 on the Capitol steps.
A proposal to block Planned Parenthood from receiving $3.5 million in federal funds cleared the Assembly in September, but hasn't been scheduled for a Senate vote. Another proposal targeting Planned Parenthood's funding and one banning research on aborted fetal tissue haven't been scheduled for votes in either chamber.
Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, introduced all three bills in July, with support from Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville. Although they were introduced shortly after the release of a controversial series of videos targeting Planned Parenthood, Jacque has introduced similar legislation multiple times in previous sessions.
The bill already passed by the Assembly 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. The third would ban research conducted on fetal tissue obtained from abortions.
Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action both announced on Monday 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.
The ads depict a child in the womb, asking "What is a human life worth?" and urging lawmakers to "stop the sale and use of aborted fetal body parts." The images in the ads differ slightly — Pro-Life Wisconsin's shows a 4-D ultrasound and Wisconsin Family Action's shows a computer-generated image — but the message is the same in both.
The ads are set to run in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets. The conservative website MediaTrackers reported on Monday that Milwaukee stations WISN and FOX 6 declined to air the ads during the morning and evening news slots requested by the organizations sponsoring them.
Pro-Life Wisconsin legislative director Matt Sande said the total buy from both organizations is $3,100 in Green Bay. They have made a $1,200 buy with WTMJ in Milwaukee, and are still trying to work out an arrangement with FOX 6, he said.
Sande said the ads are specifically calling on Vos because the organizations know the Assembly has the votes to pass the bill.
"The ad affirms the human dignity of aborted preborn children," said Pro-Life Wisconsin state director Dan Miller in a statement. "Ethical and effective research does not, and never should, depend on the desecration of aborted human beings. We are simply calling on Speaker Vos to stand by his initial public support of AB 305 and to immediately schedule a floor vote on the bill. The votes are certainly there to pass this bill intact."
Vos told Wisconsin Public Radio last week 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.
Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the senator believes the bill is "likely to see passage this session, but that will require first working out a solution to the current research concerns." Senate Republicans will caucus this week and plan to discuss all three bills, she said.
Wisconsin Family Action president Julaine Appling said in a statement that the pro-life community is not anti-research, adding that supporters of the bill encourage the exploration of adult stem cell research or, if fetal tissue must be used, tissue from stillbirths or miscarriages.
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.
"This is not simply about the economic impact, as damaging as that would be," said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW-Madison school of medicine and public health, during testimony against the bill. "What it’s really about is the unnecessary halt of vitally important research that has the potential to save countless lives."
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.