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Bill to let pharmacists prescribe birth control passes Wisconsin Assembly

A package of birth control pills.
Crixell Matthews/VPM
A package of birth control pills

Birth control could be prescribed and dispensed by pharmacists in Wisconsin under a bill that passed the Republican-controlled state Assembly on Wednesday with broad bipartisan support.

The GOP-authored measure, which has drawn criticism from anti-abortion groups, next heads to the Senate, where a similar measure stalled last session. But the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Joel Kitchens, has said he’s optimistic it will get a Senate vote this time, although some Democrats are concerned it won't pass.

Under current state law, women can only obtain most birth control through a prescription written by a doctor or advanced practice nurse.

This marks the first time the bill has come up since Wisconsin's 1849 law banning abortion went back into effect after last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. Republicans and their anti-abortion allies, who suffered a series of defeats in ballot questions in states across the political spectrum since that ruling, are tackling the issue nationwide in a variety of ways.

In addition to the bill on pharmacist birth control, Wisconsin Republicans also introduced a measure that would create rape and incest exceptions under that state's abortion ban. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has vowed to veto anything that doesn't return state law to how it was before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Evers backs a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general, a fellow Democrat, that seeks to overturn Wisconsin's abortion ban. That case is expected to ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court, which flips from conservative to liberal control in August. The winning liberal Supreme Court candidate in an April election ran as a supporter of abortion rights.

Republicans behind the bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe and dispense common birth control pills and hormonal contraceptive patches say it is a way to prevent more unwanted pregnancies.

The measure, which Democrats have introduced in the past, passed the Assembly on a 82-11 vote. All of the no votes were Republicans. It must pass both the Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Evers, before taking effect. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

“I certainly am pessimistic about that bill making it through the Senate," said Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck, who joined with fellow Democrats in proposing a bill Wednesday that would make access to birth control a right under state law. "It certainly seems to be a showpiece for Assembly Republicans that they can’t get their Senate colleagues to buy into.”

Evers supports the bill and would sign it into law should it pass the Legislature, his spokesperson Britt Cudaback said.

A wide array of groups support the measure, including the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association.

Opponents include Pro-Life Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and Wisconsin Family Action.

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