MADISON, Wisc. (WOMENSENEWS)–For advocates of women’s rights in Wisconsin, Republican incumbent Scott Walker’s narrow win over Democrat Mary Burke in last week’s gubernatorial race means the bad news will only get worse.
The same governor who has restricted women’s access to abortion in the state also supports a constitutional amendment backed by Pro-Life Wisconsin to grant "personhood" and legal rights to a fertilized egg, making abortion illegal without exceptions and banning common forms of birth control, embryonic stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization
Walker may be best known for union-busting tactics that led to massive protests and a recall election in 2012.
But his first term was also marked by rollbacks to women’s access to health care and the 2012 repeal of Wisconsin’s Pay Equity law. The repeal makes it more difficult for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court.
In Wisconsin, women earn 75 cents for every dollar men make, compared to the national average of 77 cents. Women in the state are more than twice as likely as men to hold low-wage jobs. By some estimates, wage inequities in Wisconsin cost families more than $4,000 a year.
State Rep. Christine Sinicki, a Democrat, said that if the wage gap were closed, the $1.1 billion in income taxes generated would plug all the holes left by Walker’s K-12 school budget cuts. "It’s like getting a free pass to discriminate against women," Sinicki said in a press statement before the election.
Vision for 2nd Term
Just two months before the gubernatorial election Walker laid out his vision for his second term in an editorial meeting.
That vision includes testing able-bodied recipients of unemployment insurance and FoodShare (previously food stamps) to be tested for drugs. He also wants to lower from 60 months to 48 months the total lifetime amount of time an able-bodied adult can receive those benefits.
Such proposals might seem familiar to Wisconsin residents who remember the tenure of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, whose successful efforts in the 1990s to implement work requirements for welfare recipients was the first in the nation. The response to Thompson’s "welfare to work" initiative became a national template for welfare reform.
Now, the aftermath of Walker’s re-election will certainly be scrutinized to determine if his policies impacting women are another harbinger of national social change. Scott Walker is frequently mentioned among possible Republican contenders in the next presidential election.
Nicole Safar, public policy director at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, calls Walker’s first term in office a never-ending assault on basic public health policies that disproportionately impact women and that have compromised health care for thousands.
"Never before has a Wisconsin governor acted so quickly to deny thousands of Wisconsinites care they depend on," Safar said by email before the election. "Scott Walker kicked over 87,000 Wisconsin women, children and families off BadgerCare, the only affordable health insurance option for many in our state." Walker also rejected the federally-financed expansion of Medicaid in Wisconsin under the Affordable Care Act.
Walker’s attacks on women’s health care during his time in office came from several directions.
Walker declaring himself "100 percent pro-life" has also led to the losses of health services aside from abortion.
Only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s services are related to abortion, while many more pertain to breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV and sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy testing, wellness exams and birth control. The clinics also make referrals to community resources offering various types of assistance.
Under the first Walker administration, Planned Parenthood services family planning centers in nine counties were disrupted; most are in rural areas with high poverty rates, and where it is the sole family planning provider.
Five Planned Parenthood centers (in Fond du Lac, Shawano, Chippewa Falls, Beaver Dam and Johnson Creek) have been shuttered by the funding cuts.
Melissa Baldauff, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, has little doubt that Walker will see his re-election as a mandate to intensify his social agenda.
Walker’s intentions concerning women’s rights have been clear since he was inaugurated in January of 2011.
In a recently released 2010 video, Walker confirmed that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. In 1998, when Walker was a state representative, he co-authored an unsuccessful bill that would have also banned abortion even if the woman’s life was in jeopardy, along with a penalty of life imprisonment for physicians who perform the procedure.
Christine Martell is a journalist based in Madison, WI who previously worked for the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.