U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra visits Milwaukee, emphasizes support for reproductive rights

U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra visits Milwaukee, emphasizes support for reproductive rights

By: Chuck Quirmach - WUWM

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra made stops Friday at a health clinic in Cudahy and at the UWM Nursing Simulation Lab.

His stated mission: emphasize the Biden Administration's continuing backing of reproductive rights ahead of this weekend's 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the Roe vs. Wade case, supporting abortion rights across the U.S.

Last summer, the Court overturned those rights in what is known as the Dobbs decision, sending the regulations on abortion back to the states. Since the Dobbs ruling, an 1849 law banning abortion in Wisconsin has been in effect.

In Cudahy, Becerra heard from local and state health care providers, who say the Wisconsin law prevents them from offering pregnant women the full range of care. Although, under a change made by the Biden Administration, some care clinics in the state receiving federal funding are now able to discuss abortion with patients, and perhaps refer them to abortion providers in other states like Minnesota and Illinois.

HHS Sec. Becerra (center) also spoke at an afternoon event at the UWM College of Nursing. U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore is at left. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is immediately to Becerra's left.
In response to a question from WUWM, Becerra promised continued funding of the federal family planning program known as Title X. "Not enough, clearly, because we haven't been able to receive sufficient resources (from Congress.) But we are trying to be as surgical, if I can use the word, as we can be, in how we distribute the money, so we can make sure we are providing the most efficacious family planning services possible," he said.

Becerra continued: "We are also making sure that where we can make services and treatment available to patients—as in the case of medication abortion— where possible and provide the information that folks need, so they can access that."

Becerra also promised to enforce privacy rights for providers and patients, and said that he supports a lawsuit filed last summer by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and State Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul to overturn the 1849 Wisconsin law. The case is pending in Dane County.

Republicans who control the state legislature have mentioned possibly adding limited exceptions to the 174-year-old statute but say they are unwilling to restore reproductive rights taken away by the Dobbs ruling.

At UW-Milwaukee, Becerra met with several dozen nursing and other health care students. U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) also attended that event.

Baldwin later told WUWM that she hopes Becerra provided optimism. "In the roles we have, we have to be hopeful and we have to have some level of optimism that our work will result in the change we want to see,'' said Baldwin.

Baldwin said today's health care students are eventually "going to be practicing in a situation where federal and state law doesn't guarantee they can keep their oath," to adequately care for the sick.

The Wisconsin Republican Party took a dim view of Becerra's visit, releasing a statement that says, in part, "State residents continue to worry about inflation, failing schools and rampant crime, but the Biden Administration and Wisconsin Democrats choose to focus on abortion because they have no solutions."

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