Wisconsin effort to expand Medicaid-funded contraception to minors draws fire

Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin.
Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin.


The state of Wisconsin is working to expand a program which uses federal Medicaid funds to provide free contraception and vasectomies to poor and low income people. One pro-life leader challenged claims the program saves money, warning it supplies contraceptives to minors no matter their family’s income and without parental knowledge.

The program is made possible by the federal health care overhaul passed in March 2010. According to the Wall Street Journal, previously federal funding was conditional and states had to reapply regularly. The new legislation allows states to establish permanent programs and to secure federal funding more quickly.

At present, women qualify for the program if they make up to $21,600 per year as an unmarried person, twice the federal poverty level. In June the Wisconsin government applied to raise the qualifying limit to $32,490.

Jason Helgerson, Wisconsin’s Medicaid director, said the program helps prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Wisconsin spent $18.4 million on the program in 2008. About 53,000 people receive extra “family planning help” under Medicaid, the Wall Street Journal says, with federal Medicaid reimbursing 90 percent of the costs. The state health department estimated that the program prevented 11,064 unplanned pregnancies, claiming savings of $139.1 million which would otherwise have been spent to support the children.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has said it opposes the health care legislation’s provision to facilitate such programs and will alert its bishops at the state level.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, told the Wall Street Journal that providing coverage for family planning and nothing else reflects “a very dismissive view of women” and tells them “the reproductive system is the only part of you we're interested in, and our interest is only to make sure it doesn't produce.”

In a Wednesday phone interview, CNA spoke with Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, whose organization has opposed the program since its inception in 2003.

Sande challenged the Wisconsin health department’s claim that the program saves money through preventing pregnancy. He cited the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s report on the program, which declared “estimates of program costs and savings must be based on a number of behavioral assumptions that cannot be reliably predicted.”

“All costs and savings are speculative,” the report said, according to Sande.

He explained that Pro-Life Wisconsin holds that government-funded birth control “fuels teen sexual activity and encourages it.”

Sande especially objected to the provision of taxpayer-funded birth control at no cost to minors aged 15 to 17 and the law’s prohibition of parental notification.

“Parents are naturally concerned about sexual health of their teen children, to protect them physically and to guide them morally. State should be protecting that relationship, not undermining it.”

A 15-year-old can enroll in the family planning program and “can literally be receiving hormonal contraceptives that day, including the morning-after pill.”

“Their parents don’t know. I’ve had parents call me and just be shocked and saddened that their child was on the morning-after pill.”

Sande also claimed that minors’ family income is disregarded, so even a wealthy girl could qualify. “Virtually every teen girl in this state is eligible for this program,” he charged, later adding, “That should make taxpayer irate.”

Opponents of the program have concentrated on raising the minimum eligibility age to exclude minors, but the last legislative effort lost by one vote.

He said that the program is “enticing” to states because federal funds provide 90 percent of costs instead of the typical 60 percent.
He also noted that the Wisconsin program was approved under the George W. Bush administration.
Pro-Life Wisconsin opposes all contraception, Sande told CNA. “The idea that pregnancy is a disease, that a child is a problem to be taken care of, that fosters the abortion mentality.”

Sande thought it was “sad” that so many young girls and boys are enrolling in the program. “Their sexual mores and their thought processes are being guided by the nation’s number one abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.”

“This is the culture of death in full swing here.”

“Constantly pushing contraception … is giving the green light to early teen sexual activity,” he remarked. “Planned Parenthood knows that these hormonal contraceptives fail, and they reap the profits when children become pregnant and get abortions.”

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