ASSEMBLY (copy)

Rep. Andre Jacque, pictured in a file photo in the Assembly Chambers at the Capitol.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Abortions would not be covered by health insurance plans for Wisconsin state employees, with few exceptions, under legislation approved Thursday by the state Assembly.

Lawmakers voted on party lines to approve the bill, authored by Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere. It awaits action in the Senate. 

Under the legislation, the state's Group Insurance Board would not be allowed to enter into a group health insurance plan contract or provide a group health insurance plan on a self-insured basis that provides abortion services, except for in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

It's unclear whether the legislation would change anything in practice, as state plans currently only require coverage for medically necessary abortions.

"This is really making sure essentially that state taxpayers are not paying for elective abortions, period," Jacque told reporters before the Assembly session.

Wisconsin law currently prohibits payment for abortion through Medicaid and bars state exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion.

Democrats said the measure is another Republican effort to, in the words of Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, "erode the quality of health care provided to women."

"Abortions are legally a part of women’s health care, and every time we put one of these bills on the floor … it affects how a physician interacts with a patient," said Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville.

Kolste said there are "tragic" circumstances under which a doctor and patient might decide an abortion is the right decision, offering the example of a pregnant woman diagnosed with cancer.

Jacque accused Democrats of making "red herring" arguments, and argued that "abortion is not health care, it is the killing of a child."

"If there were real-world examples, I think we would have heard about them," he said.

Two Democratic amendments to the the bill were rejected, also on party lines.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

The first, authored by Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, would have included a clarification that "'abortion' does not include use of a contraceptive." Democrats argued the language used to define "abortion" under the bill — used in several other areas of state statutes — is too vague and could target contraception. 

The second would have eliminated the requirement that a victim of sexual assault or incest report the crime to law enforcement in order to have an abortion covered by a state health plan. Advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have registered in opposition to the bill because of that requirement.

The state Department of Employee Trust Funds currently requires coverage for therapeutic abortions, which are deemed as medically necessary procedures. It is up to the health plan to determine what constitutes medical necessity, and the plan may require prior authorization before services are covered, said ETF spokeswoman Nancy Ketterhagen when the bill was introduced last spring.

The state does not collect data on how many abortions are covered under its plans, Ketterhagen said.

Twenty-one states have laws restricting abortion coverage under public employees' insurance plans.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.