by Dayna Long
The Catholic anti-abortion organization Pro-Life Wisconsin made news in late October for holding its “Love for Life” gala indoors and without masks. The event was attended by a number of Republican lawmakers, including the Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, Joe Sanfelippo. The recklessness of the group’s decision to move forward with its gala at a time when people in Wisconsin are experiencing a devastating COVID-19 outbreak is breathtaking. There were 4,062 new cases reported on the day of the gala. Just three days before the event, Governor Evers announced that the first patient had been accepted at the state’s overflow field hospital at the state fair grounds outside Milwaukee, as hospitals across the state are increasingly overfull. Why would anyone willfully choose to make a bad situation worse by bringing dozens of people together at a gathering where few were wearing masks?
The answer is that Pro-Life Wisconsin is an anti-science, anti-healthcare organization comprised of people who are startlingly stupid and not especially pro-life, as most reproductive rights advocates have known for years. Pro-Life Wisconsin was founded in the early nineties with the explicit purpose of serving as the extreme right-flank of Wisconsin’s anti-abortion movement. They oppose abortion at every stage, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health or life of the pregnant person. They also oppose birth control. Their positions are not justified by science or medical expertise but rest solely on religious doctrine. They argue that precious human life begins at conception, while pushing policies that are actively harmful to real, living people with friends and families and full lives.
That they would defy common-sense public health measures during a pandemic is no great surprise. Their entire worldview defies the premise of good public health, which rests on empowering people with all of the information and options they need to make the healthiest decisions for themselves and their families. Still, it has to be said that an organization that would hold an in-person, mask-free event right now – a group that appealed a decision to uphold Governor Evers’ emergency capacity limitations on businesses where COVID-19 is spreading and killing workers – is very clearly not a group that cares about saving lives. But their hypocrisy gets even more extensive. Their website explains their opposition to a range of end-of-life medical decision making, including living wills and physician-assisted death, as follows: “Increasingly, the elderly, frail and handicapped are finding themselves declared “unwanted” or “burdens,” just like the preborn. Our vulnerable brothers and sisters at the end of life need our love and protection just as much they did at the beginning of life.”
Just who do these bucketheads think COVID-19 is killing, exactly? Pro-Life Wisconsin thinks it’s wrong for people who are terminally ill to choose death with dignity on their own terms, but they’ll help cull sick and elderly Wisconsinites in order to host a fundraiser? To date, of the 2,200+ people who have died of COVID-19 in the state of Wisconsin, 75% were 70 years old or older when they died their agonizing deaths, many of them alone in hospitals, without even the comfort of family or friends. To refuse to adhere to basic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as Pro-Life Wisconsin has done, is to fully embrace the notion that elderly Wisconsinites are expendable.
Pro-Life Wisconsin’s ongoing relationship with the Republican Party is also revealing of their true values. An organization that claims to stand for defending life and the welfare of babies and children should find no friends among the criminally negligent Wisconsin Republicans, who have not only contributed nothing to the safety and economic stability of Wisconsin families this year, but have actively fought the public health measures Governor Evers has attempted to enact. All over the state, the COVID-19 crisis and ensuing economic meltdown has pushed families from precarity into full-blown disaster. Unable to afford housing, food, or diapers for small children, homeless moms are forced to beg for the kindness of strangers in mutual aid groups on Facebook. The Republican party controls the state legislature, and their refusal to take emergency action on behalf of struggling families should be roundly condemned as an abdication of their most basic responsibilities during a public health emergency. Instead, Pro-Life Wisconsin gave Joe Sanfelippo an award.
One thing I’ve learned throughout this pandemic is that COVID-19 never seems to kill the people who deserve it most. We can expect to continue to read Matt Sande’s name in the paper alongside a quote about how the next round of barbaric, anti-abortion legislation to emerge in Wisconsin doesn’t go far enough. State Director Dan Miller will probably make more appearances outside of local abortion clinics, his pleated khaki pants rippling in the breeze as he encourages Pro-Life Wisconsin’s repugnant troll followers and their tragic, captive children to harass patients who are just trying to access healthcare services.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin, shameless as ever, will continue to put itself forward as the party of family values, even after its best attempt at killing at least one member of each Wisconsin family. They will also pretend to be medical experts while they champion more anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-public health legislation, in spite of outpourings of oppositional testimony from real healthcare providers. Presiding over one of the worst healthcare disasters in Wisconsin history will not stop them from using their stolen authority to make even more terrible decisions about our health and safety in years to come.
Pointing out their hypocrisy has never stopped the Republicans, nor will it prevent Pro-Life Wisconsin from carrying out its nightmarish agenda. We need powerful movements to cut against their ideology and undermine their influence in this state. But Pro-Life Wisconsin’s refusal to take COVID-19 seriously and their collaboration with the state’s deadliest political party will hopefully help more people in Wisconsin to recognize them for the ghouls they’ve always been. Their only real commitment is to inflicting their rigid anti-woman, anti-autonomy orthodoxy on the entire state. They have no business weighing in on anybody’s healthcare decisions or in influencing the policies that govern family planning and sexual health in our state and they never have.