Republicans propose bill to bar state employees from promoting or providing abortions
A bill being circulated by Republican lawmakers would prohibit state and local government employees from promoting, providing or facilitating abortion services while acting within the scope of their job.
The “Taxpayer Abortion Subsidy Prevention” bill is meant to continue severing ties between taxpayer dollars and abortion services, according to the co-sponsorship memo being circulated by authors Sen. André Jacque (R-DePere) and Rep. Elijah Behnke (R-Oconto). It comes as debate continues between Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats over whether and how to amend the state’s 1849 ban, which only includes an exception for the life of the mother.
“We will be introducing legislation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not utilized to subsidize abortions, either through the use of public employees or public facilities,” the co-sponsorship memo states.
Wisconsin state law already doesn’t allow state money to subsidize abortion services, however, the Republican lawmakers want to bar public employees from being able to speak about or perform abortion services while on the job.
“Liberal public officials across Wisconsin government have long participated in the procurement, and even performance of, abortion procedures within their taxpayer-funded employment,” the memo states. It references University of Wisconsin faculty members providing services at Planned Parenthood, something that Jacque has long opposed.
Under the bill, no person employed by the state, by a state agency or by a local government would be allowed to provide abortion services; promote, encourage, or counsel in favor of abortion services; make abortion referrals either directly or through an intermediary; or train others to perform abortions or receive training in performing abortions.
The goal of the bill is to also limit taxpayer dollars from being used to help women receive abortion services out of state.
“It is presently unclear to what extent Wisconsin public employees, while being paid with taxpayer funds, are still involved in the performance of abortions outside of Wisconsin that would be clearly illegal if performed in-state,” the memo states.
“It has also been suggested that government funds in Wisconsin could be used to purchase or lease actual facilities for abortions in surrounding states and take an active role in transporting women across state lines to receive abortions,” the memo continues. “This legislation will provide crystal clarity that such initiatives would be unlawful.”
The bill is supported by Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action, two of the state’s major anti-abortion groups.
Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) says she is deeply concerned by the attempt to “gag free speech,” especially when it is related to providing factual information about essential health services.
The proposed law would bar state or local government employees from promoting or encouraging abortion services, something Roys frequently does, including on her legislative website which features a tab with abortion resources. She says it’s essential that everyone, including health care providers, politicians and neighbors share information about how people can access abortion, if they need it.
Roys criticizes the basis of the bill, calling it “patently unconstitutional” and “poorly thought out” and adding that people have still maintained their right to the First Amendment even in the post-Dobbs world.
She also says the bill, which includes a “prohibition on the use of public employees and public property for abortion-related activities,” is too broad.
“Could that be public sidewalks? Could it be public streets? Could that be public parks?” Roys says. “Does that mean that I cannot, if I get a call from a constituent who says, ‘Hey, you know, is abortion legal in Wisconsin or anywhere else in the country?’ I can’t give her accurate information about that, because I’m in my Capitol office? Does that mean I can’t talk about what medication abortion is… from my state government Twitter account or Facebook page?”
Roys says the bill is a part of continued efforts by anti-choicers to limit and restrict access to and information about abortions.
“Every single local and state government is now dealing with anti-choicers trying to create as limiting a legal regime as possible in every jurisdiction and whether or not they can pass bills like this,” Roys says.
Stopping taxpayer dollars from abortion services is something that has cropped up in other states including Idaho, which passed a law with a similar purpose in 2021. Called the “No Public Funds for Abortion Act,” the law prohibited public funds from being used to “procure, counsel in favor, refer to or perform an abortion.” That law led to the recent censorship of a University of Idaho student’s art that contained depictions of abortion medication.
The bill in Wisconsin would almost certainly be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, if it passed the Republican-led Legislature, however Roys says that it could still have a negative impact.
“Just putting it out there creates a climate of fear as people aren’t sure what’s legal and what’s not,” Roys says. “It increases stigma related to abortion and reproductive health care.”