Wisconsin Democrat promises 'all out hell' on state abortion bills

A Democratic state senator on Thursday promised "all out hell" if the Wisconsin Senate debates a pair of anti-abortion bills next week.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Middleton, made the comment after the Senate Health Committee voted 3-2 along party lines on a pair of Republican-sponsored abortion bills that have already passed in the Assembly.

One bill would ban abortions that are solely based on whether the fetus is male or female, also known as sex selection. Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because few, if any, abortions are done for that reason.

The other bill, which drew the most ire from Democrats, would prohibit public workers' health insurance plans from covering abortions and exempt religious organizations from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives. The employee could get contraceptives if they are prescribed for a reason other than preventing a pregnancy, a provision added by the state Assembly when it passed the bill in June.

Employers shouldn't be given the power to decide whether to grant or deny a woman's ability to obtain contraceptives, Erpenbach said.

"Their morals are fine for them but not for the rest of the state," Erpenbach said after the hearing. "Government intrusion like this is shocking."

Julaine Appling, president of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, attended the committee vote and said Erpenbach was being disingenuous in his arguments. The duty to grant or deny contraceptives rests not with the employer but the insurance company, she said.

"That's just a stall tactic," Appling said.

Appling's group, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and other anti-abortion organizations support the bill. The Wisconsin Medical Society, Planned Parenthood and American Civil Liberties Union are all registered in opposition.

Erpenbach also said the Senate should hold a public hearing on the change before it's expected to debate the bill Tuesday, the last planned session day of the year. There was a hearing before the Assembly amended it this summer to provide the exemption to allow contraceptives for medical uses other than preventing a pregnancy.

"You don't want this headline," Erpenbach told committee chairwoman Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield. "You don't want this story. You don't want this hassle that's about to happen."

Vukmir said there is a precedent for waiving the Senate's public hearing requirement before voting on a bill, but Erpenbach said that happens only when there is consensus — and that's not the case this time, he said.

When asked after the hearing how he expected Tuesday's debate to play out, Erpenbach said, "All out hell. Seriously."

Republicans control the Senate 18-15. Gov. Scott Walker has said he supports both bills, but when asked about them Thursday, Walker said he wasn't focused on any issues that don't have to do with creating jobs or improving the economy.