The Wisconsin state Senate voted to strip Planned Parenthood of an estimated $7.5 million in federal funding by approving two bills on Wednesday.
The first would place limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program. The second 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.
The state Assembly in October approved the second bill, but hasn't yet taken up the first. The Senate passed the Republican bills on a party-line vote.
Democrats say the pair of bills would restrict access to reproductive health services throughout the state, while Republicans argue just the opposite.
Anti-abortion advocates have been pushing lawmakers to take action on these two bills and on one that would ban research conducted on aborted fetal tissue. That bill is stalled in both houses as Republican legislators struggle to reach a compromise on it.
While the Medicaid reimbursement bill language addresses abortion providers in general, bill author Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, acknowledged it would specifically affect Planned Parenthood.
Under the bill, family planning clinics could only bill Medicaid for the actual acquisition cost plus a dispensing fee for prescription drugs obtained through Medicaid's 340B program.
"This is a consistent stance with where I have always been, where many others in this body have always been, and that is, we are going to protect life," Kapenga said. "I believe that that begins at conception, and I believe that one of the cornerstones of the Declaration of Independence and what our Constitution is drafted around is the protection of life."
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, argued the bills aren't about protection of life, but rather about passing a vindictive agenda.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the Medicaid bill isn't about abortion at all; rather, it's about saying it's OK for other entities to be reimbursed for dispensing birth control, but not for Planned Parenthood to receive the same reimbursement.
"Birth control, for men, you can go to a truck stop. You can go to a gas station. You can go to a big box store. We, women, we have to to go to a pharmacist. We have to go to a health center," said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, arguing bills like this wouldn't be introduced if the situation were reversed.
Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, rejected the premise that Republicans are going after birth control. He disputed the argument that access can be challenged, arguing, "I think it's pretty easy to find. At least, that's the way I thought it was."
"Women’s birth control? I’m for women’s birth control. I think probably most everybody else here is, too. That’s not an issue," Stroebel said. "I support women’s health care. I think everybody else here does. What we don’t support is a taxpayer subsidy for a private abortion provider. That's what this bill is about. We are for women's health care, and we want to see that that is available."
The second bill would bar the state from giving any federal Title X dollars to organizations that perform abortions.
Under federal law, Title X money must fund family planning and contraceptives, STD testing and breast and cervical cancer screening. It is not allowed to be spent on abortions, but supporters of the bill argue that when Planned Parenthood spends federal money on family planning services and screenings, money is freed up to fund abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been the direct recipient of Title X funds for more than 35 years. A portion of those funds are distributed to a total of 18 health centers across across the state, including 9 non-Planned Parenthood health centers. According to the organization, about 50,000 men and women are served under the funding stream each year.
Five Planned Parenthood clinics have closed since Gov. Scott Walker cut off the organization's state funding in 2011, none of which provided abortions. The organization has said the pair of bills would "devastate" Planned Parenthood and other safety-net health care providers.
Walker has said he supports efforts to further restrict Planned Parenthood's funding.