By John Connolly

MADISON, Wisconsin, January 25, 2008 ( – The Republican controlled Wisconsin State Assembly passed legislation on January 23 forcing all hospitals to offer “emergency contraception,” even religious hospitals that object to dispensing the contraceptives/abortifacients on moral grounds.

The bill, which has been blocked by pro-life Republicans for six years, passed by a vote of 61-35 and will go to Governor Jim Doyle’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. The bill requires hospitals to offer “emergency contraceptive” measures to victims of sexual assault. “Emergency contraception” includes the abortifacient morning after pill and the use of an intrauterine device (IUD) which would cause an abortion.

“It is a sad day for Wisconsin,” said Peggy Hammil, state director of Pro-life Wisconsin.  “The State Assembly has shamefully ignored the fate of embryonic children by forcing Wisconsin hospitals to dispense a known abortion-causing drug to vulnerable women.  In so doing, they have trampled upon the conscience rights of hospitals and hospital workers in blatant disregard of our federal and state constitutions which guarantee freedom of religious expression and liberty of conscience.”

“Our opposition to this legislation is based on the abortion causing action of so-called ‘emergency contraception,’” says the Pro-Life Wisconsin website.  “Also known as the morning-after pill, emergency contraception is basically two high doses of the birth control pill to be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.  It can work in three ways: to suppress ovulation, to inhibit the mobility of sperm, and, if fertilization occurs, to irritate the lining of the uterus so that a newly conceived child (human embryo) is unable to implant in the womb, thus starving and dying.  This last action is pre-implantation chemical abortion.”

Pro-Life Wisconsin represents 30,000 families in the state of Wisconsin, and applauded the 35 state assemblymen who voted against the bill.

The bill will not go to Doyle for signing immediately, because the State Assembly failed to gather the needed two-thirds vote to overcome the motion of Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater,  preventing automatic transmission of the bill to the Senate. The bill will need to wait until the next full Assembly meeting in February before it is transferred to the Senate.

“It’s a shame more people will have to wait for compassionate care, but it’s a relief to know we’ll get it,” said Amanda Harrington, a lobbyist who has long pushed the legislation.

“[The vote] is cause for great frustration and anger in the pro-life community,” said Matt Sande of Pro-Life Wisconsin. “This is a day that will be long remembered.”

Dr. John Rinke, an emergency room doctor at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, Wis., expressed his worries about the effects the bill will have on employment of ethical doctors.

“I know physicians, I know emergency physicians, I know hospital administrators,” Rinke said. “Emergency medicine has been my breath and my blood for more than 25 years; this bill will affect emergency physicians.”

He said that while doctors who fail to produce information on “emergency contraception” or provide contraception wouldn’t be fined directly, the law would put their jobs in jeopardy.

“It puts the emergency physician who is pro-life in the untenable position of having to choose between his conscience and his career,” he said. “[The bill] places the physician in the position of swinging the axe of an executor. There are two patients here, not just one.”

Rinke says that when the bill becomes law it could have a massively negative effect on rural emergency rooms that have not previously served as sexual assault care centers.

“What the state of Wisconsin is saying to me with this bill is: If you love a patient so much that you can’t stand hurting them, that you can’t stand killing them … then you don’t belong in Wisconsin, find someplace else to practice your profession,” he said.

Both Bishop Robert Morlino and Bishop Jerome Listecki publicly broke with the Wisconsin Bishop’s conference and its neutral position on the bill.

Bishops Morlino and Listecki argued that the neutral stand of the bishops’ conference was to show support for a clause which proposed to allow an opt-out for institutions and individuals if tests determine pregnancy prior to administration of the abortifacient drugs.  However, that opt-out clause was rejected by the legislators, thus making the neutral stance of the WCC “moot.”

“The hoped-for effect of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s earlier stance of neutrality on this bill was to protect women who are the victims of rape, while also protecting the possible pre-born human being, by affirming the necessary conscience exemption for institutions and individuals with regard to the appropriate testing, so as to avoid abortifacient emergency contraception,” said Bishop Morlino in a letter.

“It is my judgment as Bishop of Madison that the earlier position of neutrality did not have its hoped for effect, and so it is now moot, and this neutrality position has now expired.”

See previous coverage:

Second Bishop Breaks with Wisconsin Conference to Oppose Emergency Contraception Bill

Wisconsin Bishop Breaks from Conference and Opposes Emergency Contraception in Catholic Hospitals

US Catholic Bishops in Wisconsin and Connecticut Drop Opposition to Abortion-Causing Emergency Contraception