Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez answers tough questions on abortion - TAI News
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Sara Rodriguez, who was sworn in as Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor in January 2023, has worn many hats in her career. The Waukesha County mom of two teens is a registered nurse, was a small-business owner, served as a vice president at a Fortune 100 company, and worked as an executive with a large local health care system.

The Wisconsin Independent spoke with Rodriguez on Feb. 28, hours before Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith blocked a motion for unanimous consent on the Access to Family Building Act, a bill introduced by Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth that would have protected access to assisted reproductive procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

On Feb. 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos created via IVF are human beings under state law, a decision that led to fertility clinics pausing their activities out of fear of facing criminal penalties for discarding frozen embryos, even if they are not viable or a patient decides not to have them implanted.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Wisconsin Independent: Regarding the Access to Family Building Act: If it fails, what is the administration in Wisconsin planning to do to protect IVF?

Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez: We want to make sure that we restore all protections that were there pre-Roe. And we do have Republican colleagues who, every session, do introduce a personhood bill within the Assembly to be able to restrict procedures such as IVF. 

What Planned Parenthood has actually done here is also put through a request to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to say, is this something that can be enshrined in the Wisconsin Constitution, that women do have the right to abortion services here in Wisconsin? And so Gov. Evers and myself have been very clear, we don’t want to go backwards, we want to go forwards, we want to make sure that my daughter doesn’t have any less rights than her grandmother does.

WI Independent: I was curious if, for some reason you land in a hospital and it’s one of these more bizarre situations, it’s a wanted pregnancy that goes wrong or whatever, that you probably are not going to get the care that you need in that hospital. You probably are going to be sent out in Wisconsin to one of the three locations of Planned Parenthood. Is that true, or are there instances where you may be at a hospital, and you might have an ethics committee that will review your case? 

Rodriguez: Every hospital system in Wisconsin has created their own policy, so there’s not a uniform access to service across the state. What is unique in Wisconsin is that we have a very large percentage of our hospitals have a religious affiliation. So about 1/3 of the hospitals do, and in some of those hospitals, they would be required to go to a medical ethics board to be able to provide abortion care for individuals who may be having either a threat to their life or their health for physicians to be able to that.

[Note: At the end of March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case concerning the abortion medication mifepristone, reviewing a lower court decision that could severely restrict the drug.]

WI Independent: I know it’s a Supreme Court decision, obviously, but it’s going to have a huge impact on the country. Do you expect that it’s going to go back to its less restrictive era? I know you’re not a lawyer, but I was just curious how you’re being proactive about what’s going to happen with mifepristone? 

Rodriguez: In Wisconsin, we want to make sure that everybody has access to the medication that they need for a medication abortion. In terms of the Supreme Court decision, I’m not a lawyer, but I am a nurse. And so what I would say to that is that we need to get politicians and judges outside of the doctor’s office. They need to leave. These decisions really need to be between that pregnant person and their clinician, and we do not need politicians getting in the middle of that.

WI Independent: The other concern is protecting contraception. Is there a way to protect contraceptive contraception statewide?

Rodriguez: So we could do the type of legislation that Sen. [Tammy] Baldwin has put together federally, that does create protections for contraception nationally.

[Note: In July 2023, Baldwin co-sponsored the Convenient Contraception Act, legislation that would put into federal law that people covered by private and federally funded insurance would have the right to a year of contraception versus the current three-month supply.] 

The Democrats in Wisconsin have put forth legislation each session talking about that, making sure that people would have access to contraception access to abortion services, and often, we can’t even get a hearing within our committees to be able to have the discussion about it. And so this is why I’m also very excited for Wisconsin, we just got new maps that are going to be in place for the November election. And that is going to make the state look like they vote, which is a little bit more purple. So I’m very hopeful that we can work across the aisle to be able to protect these essential services for Wisconsin.

WI Independent: There’s a referendum that [Eric] Hovde [the Republican candidate running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Baldwin] has talked about and Sen. Ron Johnson has talked about this referendum, a ban on abortion — putting it to the people. 

Rodriguez: It’s very clear that Eric Hovde doesn’t live in Wisconsin because if he lived in Wisconsin, he would know that we do not have a referendum process that has any binding force of law. It’s just more smoke and mirrors and more deflection from his position that he wants to ban all abortions across the country and in the state of Wisconsin.

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