The Walker administration wasted no time last week using the U.S. Supreme Court's disastrous Hobby Lobby decision to announce that they wouldn't enforce Wisconsin’s popular contraceptive equity law, only to backpedal a few days later under an avalanche of criticism. In a “clarification,” Gov. Scott Walker continued to insist on applying exceptions to our contraceptive equity law that are, according to legal experts at the National Women’s Law Center, legally insupportable and outside of his authority.
Wisconsin’s 2009 contraceptive equity law requires prescription drug plans to include prescription birth control, after decades of insurance discrimination against women. Walker is also attempting an end run around Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Act. Courts and administrative agencies interpret WFEA as requiring contraceptive coverage in employer-provided prescription drug plans.
Regardless of whether the health insurance plan is offered under the Affordable Care Act, prescription birth control cannot be legally excluded in prescription drug plans offered in Wisconsin unless a company is self-insured.
Given the confusing and contradictory statements issued last week by the Walker administration, the scope of this erroneous exception, and to what corporations it applies, remains unclear.
What is clear is that Walker needs a civics lesson on the scope of his power. Or perhaps he was crossing his fingers when he took his oath of office. He should know that he does not have the power to unilaterally modify Wisconsin laws. That is up to the Legislature or the courts.
Legal experts around the country agree that the Hobby Lobby decision does not impact the enforcement of state contraceptive equity laws, which still stand. Hobby Lobby involved the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the court previously specified does not apply to states. Religious objections to providing birth control permissible under the Affordable Care Act also don’t pre-empt state contraceptive equity laws that allow no such exceptions.
Having failed in his attempt to repeal contraceptive equity in his first budget, Walker got caught attempting another way to invalidate this law, while continuing to insist that he can circumvent the Legislature and our democratic process.
Perhaps Walker doesn’t comprehend the important public health role that birth control plays. The Centers for Disease Control identified family planning as one of the top 10 public health successes of the 20th century. Unintended pregnancies result in babies with lower birth weights and higher rates of infant mortality than planned pregnancies.
And access to affordable birth control also decreases the incidents of abortion.
Unfortunately, Walker successfully blocked access to birth control and cervical and breast cancer screening for thousands of Wisconsin women by defunding Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, causing five health centers to close. Walker’s refusal to accept billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid resulted in thousands of parents losing their Medicaid coverage and access to affordable birth control.
Perhaps Walker doesn’t want women getting a college education, or being in the workforce or in the Legislature. Maybe he doesn’t care about healthy families and babies. Or maybe he is willing to play politics with women’s health by interfering with critical medical decisions that impact every other area of a woman’s life. Any of these possibilities should terrify every woman in Wisconsin.
Before being elected to the state Assembly, Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, was the public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.