State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an advisory opinion Tuesday proclaiming new legislation aimed at banning University of Wisconsin System health services from advertising and dispensing emergency contraception is unconstitutional.
In a letter of response to Senate Minority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, and state Rep. Jon Edwards, D-Milwaukee, Lautenschlager said the legislation proposed by Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, violates female students’ constitutional right to privacy, equal protection under the 14th amendment and the right to free speech.
“LeMahieu’s proposed legislation raises numerous constitutional concerns,” Lautenschlager wrote in her opinion. “It attempts to regulate in an area that the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held to be constitutionally protected, and it discriminates against female students at UW.”
LeMahieu spokeman Jeffrey Grothman said Lautenschlager’s statement will not hinder the introduction of the legislation, and LeMahieu is not giving it “much weight” because it is only an advisory opinion rather than a legal or bipartisan judgment.
“The [attorney general's] advisory opinion … certainly doesn’t carry the weight of law,” Grothman said. “[Lautenschlager] is not a lawmaker … and she doesn’t have the ability to constitutionally interpret the law.”
Grothman added that if Robson and Edwards were truly concerned about the constitutionality of the bill, they would have sought the opinion of the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau instead of requesting Lautenschlager’s opinion.
The bill, which is currently circulating in the state Legislature for co-sponsorship, was initially proposed after the appearance of UHS ads in The Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal student newspapers advising students to bring emergency contraception on their spring break trips as a backup in case their normal birth-control method failed.
UHS stands firm to its decision to run the ads in the student newspapers because they believe providing emergency contraception to students is a preventative measure rather than a promotion of promiscuity, according to UHS Executive Director Kathleen Poi.
Grothman said LeMahieu is concerned about the effect of emergency contraception on women’s health. The representative believes the Legislature must consider the controversial issue of providing emergency birth control to students because the state government has the responsibility to oversee the well-being of the UW System.
Grothman added that LeMahieu is morally opposed to providing emergency contraception because he is pro-life.
“[The Legislature should] look at the bill to see whether or not UW health-service centers are doing the right thing by offering what [LeMahieu] feels is kind of a frivolous way of giving out the morning-after pill,” Grothman said. “This is a hormonal medication that has adverse effects.”
The drugs may have harmful side effects on a woman’s body in the future and taking emergency contraception could hurt a woman’s reproductive future, Grothman said, adding these are things physicians cannot “prove or disprove at this time.”
Opponents of the bill are concerned the wording of the bill is too vague in the definition of emergency contraception.
“I believe that the language of the proposed legislation is vague enough that it could be interpreted to cover other forms of oral and hormonal contraception as well,” Lautenschlager wrote.
But Grothman stressed the bill only refers to emergency contraception, which the text of the bill defines as a “hormonal medication or combination of medications that is administered only after sexual intercourse for the postcoital control of fertility.”
The bill should be considered in the state simply because of the amount of controversy around it, Grothman said, and LeMahieu welcomes a debate on the legislation.
The representative expects to introduce the bill into the Legislature next week.