Wis. Gov. Walker Quietly Signs Bills Placing New Restrictions on Abortion Care, Insurance Coverage, Sex Education

April 9, 2012 — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Thursday signed three separate bills restricting abortion care and insurance coverage of the procedure, as well as imposing new requirements for sex education, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. The governor's office announced the signings on Friday but a spokesperson declined to comment on why the governor backed the three bills, part of a group of 51 pieces of legislation Walker made law.

SB 306 requires a physician to consult in person with a woman seeking abortion care, rather than via webcam, and to be physically present when administering medication abortion. The law also requires the doctor to meet with the woman privately to ensure she is not being coerced (Marley/Stein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/6). The Wisconsin Medical Society says the bill interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, and other opponents say that abortion care consultations are not done via webcam in Wisconsin (AP/Fond Du Lac Reporter, 4/7).

SB 92 bans health plans operating in the state's health insurance exchanges from offering abortion coverage. The federal health reform law (PL 111-148) requires states to set up exchanges by 2014 to allow residents to purchase policies. Although the law requires plans that offer abortion coverage to segregate payments for the coverage from other benefits, states can opt to ban abortion coverage altogether (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/14). Health plans in Wisconsin's exchange can cover abortion care only in cases of sexual assault, incest or to save the health or life of the woman.

Under AB 237, schools teaching sex education must promote marriage and instruct students that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The law allows schools to offer abstinence-only education, a shift from previous law.

Democratic lawmakers attacked Walker and the new laws, saying they represent a "war on women." Kathleen Falk, a Democrat competing to run against Walker in a June 5 recall election, said, "He might have thought none of us are watching because it's Good Friday, but all of us women are watching" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/6). Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D) added, "Perhaps he thought that in doing this behind closed doors, with no public notice, before a holiday weekend for many families, his actions would go unnoticed. He was wrong. We will not be silent -- these issues are too important to ignore" (AP/Fond Du Lac Reporter, 4/7).