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Texas-style GOP abortion ban gets hearing in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Republicans pushed ahead Tuesday with a Texas-style abortion ban, holding a hearing on legislation that would prohibit abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has said he would veto any legislation that “turns back the clock on reproductive rights in this state,” would almost certainly veto the bill.

The bill, SB 923, would prohibit anyone from performing or attempting to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is present unless the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or she could suffer irreversible physical problems from the pregnancy. If a provider detects a heartbeat the pregnant woman would be required to listen to it.

Fetal heartbeats are typically detectable after about six weeks of pregnancy. A physician accused of performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected would be subject to investigation by the state Medical Examining Board for unprofessional conduct.

The women receiving an abortion would not face penalties, but they and anyone else would be able to sue an abortion provider who violates the prohibition, regardless of whether they have a stake in the procedure. Anyone who prevails in such a lawsuit would win at least $10,000 for every abortion performed.

The legislation largely mirrors a Texas law passed last year that allows anyone to sue providers who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected regardless of their standing. The Texas law guarantees victors in such lawsuits at least $10,000 in damages.

The Wisconsin bill also mimics what University of Wisconsin Law School professor David Schwartz deemed most “sly” about Texas’ law. Because private citizens rather than state officials would enforce the ban, “it would be challenging for courts to block the law before a bounty-hunter brings a case under it, yet the law would deter access to abortion even without a bounty-hunting case being brought,” he said in a statement.

Depending on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s interpretation should the bill become law and a suit is filed, it would also potentially be challenging to block the law until somebody files a lawsuit against an abortion provider.

“It could probably go either way,” Schwartz said. “If you’re being pragmatic and realistic, you would say the law went into effect whether somebody has gotten sued or not. The formalistic way is to say we can’t assess the law if nobody has brought a lawsuit.”

Mike Murray, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, called the bill “extreme.” Women seeking abortions would be forced to travel out of state, similar to how Texans have reacted to that state’s law.

“Our family members, friends, and neighbors ... should not be denied the ability to safely access time-sensitive health care,” Murray said.

The Senate’s government operations committee held a public hearing on the bill Tuesday. Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly haven’t scheduled any floor votes on the measure yet.

Evers vetoed a slate of Republican bills aimed at reducing abortions in December, including measures that would put doctors in prison for life if they don’t provide care for babies that survive abortions and ban abortions based on the fetus’ sex.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who is vying with former Marine Kevin Nicholson for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has said she would sign a heartbeat bill.

Asked whether Nicholson would support the ban, his spokeswoman, Courtney Mullen, responded: “As Governor, Kevin would sign legislation that prevents abortion and protects innocent life.”

State Journal reporter Alexander Shur contributed to this report.


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