While arguing that there should be no public funding for abortion care, Wisconsin Republican representative Scott Allen suggested that forcing women to carry pregnancies to term could help grow the labor force.
For many lawmakers who oppose a woman's legal right to have an abortion, their main arguments often center around religious beliefs and "preserving the sanctity of life." One state representative in Wisconsin, though, suggested last week his anti-abortion stance had to do more with economic growth.
On November 2, lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Assembly debated a bill that would restrict health insurance coverage of abortions for state employees. Under Assembly Bill 128, Wisconsin health insurance plans are prohibited from covering abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or to preserve the mother's health or life. ( The Capital Times reports: "It's unclear whether the legislation would change anything in practice, as state plans currently only require coverage for medically necessary abortions.")
If passed, the bill would "result in women who are facing complicated pregnancies losing their existing insurance coverage if they happen to be a state employee," Nicole Safar, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement.
But during Thursday's hearing, Republican Rep. Scott Allen suggested the legislation actually didn't go far enough, and lambasted the idea of providing any public funding for abortion. His reasoning, however, caused a number of advocates to draw a comparison to Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.
"I want to touch, just briefly, on economics, if I may," Allen said. "Labor force shortages are tied to population declines. Labor force shortages are a limiting factor in economic growth. And limited economic growth poses a problem when government tries to pay for public services and infrastructure. In spite of this, Mr. Speaker, ironically, the democrats continue their effort to support the abortion industry."
The Assembly approved the bill 61 to 34, and it heads to the Senate next, where a similar bill died in 2013. A request by Broadly to Allen's office for clarification on his comments was unanswered as of press time.
"Women are not baby-making machines who exist to populate the labor force," Noreen Farrell, the executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, tells Broadly. "The notion that women should be denied reproductive health care choices on these grounds is as disgusting as it is revealing about the misogyny that fuels the anti-choice movement." She adds that women "are voters and consumers and workers and breadwinners driving the economy" who "will use that considerable power to topple any agenda that would deny us choice about whether and why we have children."
Sara Finger is the executive director of Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, which opposed AB 128. She tells Broadly that Allen's insinuation that "women be used a birthing vessels to repopulate their communities is just unbelievable, reprehensible, and appalling."
"Women are not baby-making machines who exist to populate the labor force"
But, she adds, his comments are unsurprising in a state that's seen an onslaught of policies attacking women's reproductive rights in recent years. "We have had a super majority in this state of legislators who are completely comfortable passing policies based on junk science and extreme political agenda," Finger explains. "One of the first things this set of legislators [did] is repeal comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education. … the very things that help us prevent the need for abortion."
"The truth is," Finger continues, "one of the top ten greatest public health/economic security achievements in our history has been comprehensive access to reproductive health care and family planning. When women were able to start accessing this kind of comprehensive family planning opportunities, and be able to plan and space our pregnancies, it paved the way for women like me to be able to participate fully and equally in society. We're able to contribute to our workplaces and our economic security of our community because of that. You think about the jobs that are predominantly led by women, like nurses, teachers and social workers—I'm not sure what representatives like Scott Allen think are going to happen to the workforce when basically [women are expected] to have as many kids as we can to repopulate our communities."
Finger adds: "This should be an incredible wake-up call to women across this country—this is a mindset that's not isolated in the minds of someone like Scott Allen."