The only two candidates to file with the GAB, and show engagement in running for Governor against Scott Walker are two Kathleens – Falk and Vinehout. As the two formulate their campaigns and messaging, there are significant differences emerging between the two. Falk is being positioned as the establishment Dane County Democratic candidate; her staff and campaign media agencies are a clear demonstration of that effort (including the report in the Chicago Tribune that DPW Chair Mike Tate will be traveling to Chicago with Falk pollster Paul Maslin for recall-related “non-fundraiser” business meeting at a DNC media consultant this Thursday; and reports have Theresa Vilmain acting behind the scenes as a “consultant” to the Falk campaign). Vinehout would be relying (as she has in each of her Senatorial Campaigns) on a volunteer grassroots organization. Where the attack on Vinehout originated from late last week is unclear – the Falk campaign stood back and watched, as pro-choice groups began a series of assaults on one of the “Wisconsin 14.”
The assault began with social media posts of a 2008 Planned Parenthood Statement expressing grave concern over Vinehout’s position on SB232 relating to Pharmacists’ dispensing of contraceptives. Vinehout had offered an amendment to the bill (SB 232 Amendment 2) which would allow Pharmacists to opt out of dispensing contraceptives on moral or religious grounds, provided the prescription could be fulfilled “elsewhere.”
Vinehout clarified her record with a press release explaining her position on choice, and the offered amendment. Her explanation, in brief, was to put the pharmacy itself in the obligatory position of filling a prescription, while respecting the right of the Pharmacist as an individual to “ethically” refuse.
NARAL contributed to the debate with its own press release on Friday, stating “Senator Vinehout Backpedals on Anti-Choice Women’s Health Position.” NARAL accused Vinehout of “…(misrepresenting) her record on women’s health.” It should be noted that the NARAL op-ed contained an inaccuracy, in that 2007 SB398 (which would have rescinded a century-old law making abortion a crime) never received a vote in committee. NARAL claimed Vinehout “cast the deciding vote in committee” to kill the bill. An op-ed written by Lisa Subeck, Executive Director of NARAL, appeared in the Capitol Times on Tuesday, February 7 also brought into question Vinehout’s record along with that of Dave Obey. While recognizing neither is as extreme as Walker, “it’s not clear they could be counted on to protect women’s health when it comes time to veto bills limiting access to birth control or abortion care.”
In 2006, Vinehout issued a policy statement on abortion, which she claims has remained consistent. Vinehout summarizes her position as “abortion should be legal and safe. A woman should not be a criminal for having an abortion.” In 2008, she outlined her position in an op-ed, “It is easier to Attack Than Agree on a Workable Solution.” In it she addresses the concern over Pharmacists’ not filling prescriptions and how current state law would handle that situation:
“The last time a complaint was made against an individual pharmacist was six years ago and that pharmacist was severely disciplined. There is a procedure in place for pharmacists with conscience concerns to inform their employer and for the employer to make alternative plans to fill the prescription. We know the system works – it was upheld by the courts in a decision just last week.
The Wisconsin constitution offers greater protection for the right of conscience than the US constitution. Article 1, Section 18 of the state constitution requires that NO “control of or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted.” As a State Senator, I swore to uphold our constitution.
In supporting the right of women to have their contraceptive prescriptions filled without hassle, I also recognize the role of conscience. A balance can be reached. The reasons for the attack on me are political rather than substantive.
Those who have attacked, claim that women will have to “endure a shameful and public rejection at a local pharmacy, and then somehow find a less ideological pharmacist somewhere else.” This claim is imaginary and false; designed to inflame emotions, not to inform with facts. Under the amendment I proposed, such an action would have resulted in discipline of the pharmacist.
As a recent Wisconsin court decision stated, the pharmacist “is allowed to work as a pharmacist and to exercise his beliefs about contraception; he is merely prevented from doing so in a manner where he deprives patients of their legal health care rights. … The imposition of the proposed discipline, training and practice guidelines strike the appropriate balance between the interests of an objecting pharmacist and the need for protection of the public in this action.”
The record on Senator Vinehout is public, for all to decide on the merits; as well as the issues raised by pro-choice groups. Project Votesmart lists Vinehout’s Planned Parenthood rating on reproductive rights at 75%; while not perfect, it is higher than any Republican, and higher than a few of her Democratic colleagues. The danger here, with all due respect to the pro-choice community (this writer being a staunch advocate for reproductive rights and education), is not a hypothetical Vinehout veto of pro-choice legislation. The danger is in turning this primary into a referendum on choice issues – and by default, making it a single-player primary, as Falk would have the endorsement of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL over any other candidate still expressing interest in running against Scott Walker.
The direct debate between the candidates must begin soon, as the clock is ticking. As polls show, statewide voters know little about any of the candidates, and debating the issues that caused this recall effort to begin is paramount to our success. Labor and Collective Bargaining Rights must be at the fore, along with the issue which polling shows has overwhelming support of most Wisconsin voters – Public Education, and the Walker cuts to said programs. The precious little time and money candidates will have need to be spent in very visible, open, and honest debates about each other’s records and plans in regard to these issues, along with the broader issues of saving Badger/Senior Care from funding cuts.
Rest assured, if any future Democratic Governor would position themselves to veto any pro-choice or reproductive rights legislation, this writer would be the first to pick up the phone, keyboard, and a sign. The Choice community has made its concerns known, and voters have access to the information through this and other writings by advocates and candidates. If this primary devolves into a single issue – we all lose an opportunity to present broader, statewide messages against Scott Walker and his policies during the campaign. And, the risk of scaring away other potential candidates is greatest when issues become so narrowly focused – that is not what Democracy looks like.