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Wisconsin Republicans pursue anti-abortion bills in spite of likely vetoes
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Wisconsin Republicans pursue anti-abortion bills in spite of likely vetoes

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A pro-life activist holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the 48th annual March for Life on Jan. 29 in Washington, DC.

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A slate of bills that would further regulate and restrict access to abortion continues to make its way through the Wisconsin Legislature, in spite of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ implied assurance that he will veto them — some for the second time.

"This was vetoed by the governor last session, but again, life is worth fighting for," said Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, of a bill that would cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, during a committee hearing last week. "I continue to move on doing what I think is the right thing and making sure that we’re addressing this situation." 

Evers vetoed four Republican-backed abortion bills in 2019, including a “born alive” bill that would require health care providers to administer medical care in the rare case that an infant survives an abortion. The other bills would have banned abortions based on the basis of a fetus' race, sex and other qualifiers; required doctors to tell women considering taking an abortion-inducing drug the process could be reversed; and prevented Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. All four have been reintroduced in the current legislative session.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” The American Medical Association has said such claims are misleading.

“Politicians shouldn't be in the business of interfering with decisions a patient makes with their healthcare provider. I will always defend reproductive rights. Period,” Evers tweeted last week following an Assembly health committee hearing on some of the bills. 

On Tuesday, the Senate health committee heard testimony on several of the measures considered by the Assembly committee last week.

The bills considered by the Senate committee would:

  • Require doctors to tell women taking an abortion-inducing drug that they may be able to reverse the effects. 

  • Require medical facilities that perform abortions to report additional information beyond what is currently required by the state.

  • Require physicians to share educational resources with parents who receive a prenatal or postnatal positive test for Down syndrome or another congenital condition. 

  • Ban abortions if it is known that the woman is seeking to terminate the pregnancy because of the child’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or a diagnosis of Down syndrome or another congenital disability.

In addition to the bills considered by the Senate committee, the Assembly committee considered proposals that would:

  • Eliminate the anonymity of the facility in which an abortion is performed, as part of the information required to be reported to the state.

  • Prohibit the state from certifying a provider under Medicaid that provides abortion services or is an affiliate of a person that provides abortion services. One version of this bill would allow for exceptions in the case of rape, incest or the life or health of the mother; another would make no exceptions.

The Assembly committee also considered the “born alive” bill — vetoed by Evers in 2019 — which the state Senate passed on party lines late last month. The proposal is supported by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and Wisconsin Right to Life. Representatives from Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action have said they support the intent of the bill, but disagree with a provision that exempts mothers from criminal penalties. The bill is opposed by groups including the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

While Evers is likely to veto any efforts to restrict access to abortion, Wisconsin already has several laws on the books regulating the procedure.

Wisconsin women seeking abortions have been required to participate in a counseling appointment followed by a 24-hour waiting period since 1996, under a law signed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

In 2012, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a law banning telemedicine abortions — a practice by which women take the required doses for a medication abortion at home, with support from a doctor by webcam — and implementing additional measures designed to ensure women seeking abortions are not coerced. The law requires the pills for a medication abortion be given to a woman by the same doctor she sees for her state-mandated counseling appointment.

The following year, Walker signed a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Women are read a script describing what is on the screen and given the option of viewing it. The same law also included a requirement, later blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court, that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinic. Two years later, Walker signed a bill banning abortions 20 weeks after probable fertilization. 

Wisconsin is also one of eight states that passed laws banning abortion prior to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision; the law would take effect if the court were to overturn that ruling.

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