Scott Walker’s Planned Parenthood Talking Point Could Be a Problem

The governor talked up his defunding of Planned Parenthood at Monday’s Manchester forum. But the provider still gets funding in Wisconsin, and pro-lifers want him to block it.

08.05.15 5:15 AM ET

Scott Walker might have an abortion problem.

The Wisconsin governor arguably has the strongest pro-life record of any Republican presidential candidate. On his watch, Wisconsin’s legislature passed budgets that don’t include any state funding for Planned Parenthood. In 2013, Walker also signed legislation requiring women to have ultrasounds before getting abortions. And last month, he signed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The governor’s work has won him plaudits from national pro-life activists and resulted in the closure of five Planned Parenthood clinics in the state (Nicole Safar, government relations director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said none of those clinics provided abortions.)

But pro-life activists are pushing for the governor to do more—and they may be livid if he doesn’t. On Monday, the conservative news site Media Trackers published a report headlined “Wis. Allows Planned Parenthood to Get Millions in Taxpayer Funds.” The story detailed how federal Title X dollars go to Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin even though state money has been cut off.

“While pro-life advocates in Congress debate how to go about denying Title X funds to Planned Parenthood with a supporter of pro-choice policies in the White House, lawmakers here could work with Gov. Scott Walker (R) to end the practice in Wisconsin,” the report says, noting that Kansas and Texas have successfully blocked Planned Parenthood from getting Title X funds by changing how the federal government disburses them in the state.

On the campaign trail, Walker regularly touts the fact that he oversaw the elimination of state funding for Planned Parenthood. And at the Union Leader’s Voters First summit on Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, Walker distinguished himself from the U.S. senators in the presidential race—Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul—who had to attend the forum remotely so they could vote for Senate Republicans’ unsuccessful effort to eliminate federal funding for the group.

“We defunded Planned Parenthood long before these videos came out,” Walker said of the Center for Medical Progress’s sting videos.

But as long as Planned Parenthood Wisconsin gets Title X funding, some pro-life activists will resent that Walker talking point.

“I would not vote for him as a president with this kind of rhetoric,” said Jordan Debbink, a pro-life activist and the vice president of the Life Choices Inc. crisis pregnancy center in Burlington, Wisconsin. “I think it’s a lie. I think it’s untrue.”

“If bills are still being proposed that would defund Planned Parenthood, then obviously there’s a problem,” he continued.

The governor’s office disagrees with Debbink’s analysis.

“While Governor Walker already defunded Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, he supports additional changes to Wisconsin law to restrict federal funds that flow to Planned Parenthood as well,” spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email to Newsweek.

Chelsea Shields, the legislative director at Wisconsin Right to Life, said efforts to keep Planned Parenthood Wisconsin from getting Title X funding are a priority for pro-life activists.

“We know it’s something very important to address, how the state uses Title X dollars, because unfortunately Planned Parenthood receives the lion’s share of their money from the federal government,” she said. “But the state does have a say in how that is directed, so we look forward to taking a hard look and seeing what action can be taken to address this.”

Those efforts are under way. According to Wisconsin Radio Network, state Representative André Jacque has introduced legislation intended to block Planned Parenthood Wisconsin from receiving Title X funds, as well as to cap the Medicaid reimbursement fees it can charge. Jacque didn’t respond to a request for comment on his efforts.

Safar said Planned Parenthood Wisconsin receives about $4.3 million annually in federal funds, which it disburses to its affiliates and eight other private providers. Planned Parenthood could still receive federal funding if Jacque’s bill passes, she said.

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But she added that capping Medicaid reimbursements would hurt Planned Parenthood in the state.

“Essentially PPWI loses money on every patient that we see under the Medicaid program,” she said in an email. “Further cuts would greatly reduce our ability to provide affordable preventive care to the men and women in Wisconsin who need it. We could see a situation where there would be thousands of women and men in Wisconsin who were eligible for the program but no providers to offer the care.”

And state Representative Chris Taylor, a former public policy director at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said funding cuts could mean clinic closures.

“Any loss of funding will certainly put more clinics at risk,” she said in an email. “Many of these clinics serve uninsured and low-income patients. Title X funding exists to give organizations like Planned Parenthood the resources to serve low-income families.”

Kit Beyer, communications director for Wisconsin Speaker of the House Robin Vos, said the speaker supports the measures and expects them come to the floor when the legislature is back in session in September. Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said he is reviewing the proposals.

Next month, then, Wisconsin can expect more abortion wars.