A new link to a crisis pregnancy center on Wisconsin.gov, Wisconsin's state website, has led several area advocates to accuse Gov. Scott Walker's administration of blurring the lines between church and state.
The link, found under the "Family Services" subsection of "Health and Safety," leads to Care Net, an evangelical anti-abortion group that runs some 1,100 crisis pregnancy centers throughout the nation, including the Elizabeth House on Madison's east side. According to Care Net's website, its ultimate aim "is to share the love and truth of Jesus Christ."
It also claims to be a place where "those struggling with past abortions are finding God's healing and forgiveness."
Annie Laurie Gaylor, executive director of the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, accuses Walker of mistaking his role as "pastor-in-chief."
"He took an oath to uphold a secular Constitution," Gaylor says. "It's inappropriate to steer people to groups that provide misinformation about abortion and birth control."
Gaylor sent Walker a terse letter demanding that the link be removed, adding that "religious propaganda has no place on a government website under health and safety."
A call to Walker's spokesman wasn't returned. Chris Schoenherr, spokesman for the Department of Administration, which runs the state's website, says Walker did receive Gaylor's letter, but wouldn't say who authorized the link or whether it'll be removed.
"We're investigating the matter," he says.
Lisa Subeck, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, says the link is indicative of Wisconsin's recent shift in government.
"This fits right in with the new governor's and new Legislature's anti-choice and anti-women views," she says.
The link also raises questions about the integrity of crisis pregnancy centers, which in the past have been targeted by Congress for deceptive marketing practices and for providing women with misleading medical information. At least eight centers operate in Madison, with another to open soon across from Planned Parenthood on the city's east side, according to Subeck.
State Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) recently attended a conference of pro-choice lawmakers from around the country and spent considerable time discussing problems with these centers.
"We don't know if the women going to these places are being treated safely," Berceau says. "I'm worried that they're staffed by pro-life volunteers, not licensed counselors."
Subeck calls the proliferation of these centers troubling. "They lure women into the clinics by promising things like free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, then they'll put you in a room to watch videos on how bad abortion is," she says. "These fake clinics are the provider arm of the anti-choice movement."