MADISON, Wis. — Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin found themselves in the unusual position Wednesday of advocating for a bill that broadens birth control access, an area where Democrats typically lead.
Republicans could undermine a key Democratic talking point by passing the bill, but they also find themselves in conflict with groups that are typically their allies. Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action, a leading anti-abortion group, are registered in opposition.
Under current Wisconsin state law, only doctors can prescribe hormonal birth control.
Under the bill heard by the Assembly health committee, pharmacists could prescribe hormonal contraceptive patches and birth control pills, but patients would first have to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire and undergo a blood pressure screening. Pharmacists would be prohibited from giving prescriptions to anyone younger than 18.
Democrats say Republicans are being disingenuous with the legislation, which is far more restrictive than a Democratic bill introduced first that no Republican has co-sponsored. The Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Nurses Association support the GOP measure.
Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland questioned Republicans' motives regarding the measure that would broaden birth control access. She told The Associated Press that Republicans seem to want to "check off a box around the time they want to get elected" to show they support women.
Still, she hoped they would work with Democrats on amendments to broaden access to contraception under the bill, including incorporating a proposal she introduced with bipartisan support that would require insurance companies to cover 12 months' worth of birth control at a time.
Ten other states have laws allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Utah.
The laws vary by state, with some limiting the types of contraception allowed to be prescribed by pharmacists or not allowing those under 18 to receive them. And even in states that allow it, not every pharmacy provides the service because of training requirements and other restrictions.
In Wisconsin, the much broader Democratic bill would place no age limits on who could get the prescription, and patients would not have to complete a self-assessment form or go through a blood pressure screening.
The Democratic measure, unlike the Republican one, would allow pharmacists to prescribe injections of Depo-Provera, a birth control shot given every three months. The bill also would make it easier for women to receive a prescription by prohibiting a pharmacist from requiring the patient to schedule an appointment or to provide proof of a clinical visit for women's health within the past three years.
No Democrats have signed on to the Republican proposal, which has the backing of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not immediately return a message asking whether he backs the measure, which is co-sponsored by six of the Senate's 19 GOP members.
To become law, the GOP bill would have to pass the Senate and Assembly, which are both controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor's spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, had no immediate comment on the measure, but it appears unlikely that Evers would sign it given the opposition from Democratic lawmakers.
In June, Evers vetoed four anti-abortion bills passed by the Legislature. The move came after Republicans held a rally in the Capitol rotunda in an effort to publicize the measures and put pressure on Evers to sign them. He vetoed them the next day.