The GOP-controlled Legislature is seeking to intervene in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion laws because Republican lawmakers don’t have confidence Attorney General Josh Kaul will defend the laws adequately.
The intervention, which is pending a committee vote, reflects a broader strategy Republicans are taking to circumvent a Democratic attorney general they distrust to defend the state’s laws faithfully. Kaul in a court filing in February said the Department of Justice would represent the state in the lawsuit, and his spokeswoman previously signaled he would defend state law.
Republican lawmakers have already said they plan to participate in other contentious cases challenging the state’s political maps and the state’s lame-duck laws curbing some of the governor’s and attorney general’s powers.
In the latest case, GOP leaders are hoping to seek legal counsel other than Kaul to defend the state against claims by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin that provisions of Wisconsin’s abortion laws are unconstitutional because they restrict certain medical professionals, without any rational reason, from providing services to patients.
“With Attorney General Kaul’s lengthy history of forwarding Planned Parenthood’s agenda, and with Attorney General Kaul not signaling how he plans to defend Wisconsin’s pro-life laws, it is necessary for the Legislature to attempt to intervene in this case,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement.
“Democrats across the country are rolling back pro-life laws and pushing the legalization of late-term abortions. Wisconsin Republicans will fight against any efforts to try that here.”
Since taking the helm at the DOJ, Kaul joined a multi-state lawsuit filed Tuesday that challenges the constitutionality of a new federal rule that bars taxpayer-funded clinics from referring patients for abortions. Kaul in a statement had said “all Wisconsinites should have access to safe, quality health care, including family planning services.”
Planned Parenthood endorsed Kaul in the race for attorney general and spent money benefiting his campaign.
“One of the reasons that I ran for office was to protect the lives of unborn children,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement. “It’s important that there’s representation in this case that will stand up to Planned Parenthood and defend these important pro-life laws.”
Democrats called the plan to intervene an abuse of power and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
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“The power trip the speaker and majority leader are on seems endless,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “It’s clear they are more interested in doubling down on an ideological agenda than serving the public.”
Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker enacted a law in December just before Gov. Tony Evers took office that enables them to intervene in court cases in which a state law is challenged. But Lester Pines, an attorney for Planned Parenthood in the case, said federal law determines if they can do so in this case.
Pines said it’s unclear if it permits GOP lawmakers to intervene, especially before Kaul has taken a position in the case. If Kaul signals he will defend the laws as written, Pines said it would be difficult for Republican lawmakers to argue their intervention is needed.
Pines also said it was “outrageous” that GOP lawmakers are spending large sums of taxpayer dollars to do an end-run around a democratically elected attorney general.
“They want to be co-attorneys general,” Pines said.
Republicans approved up to $850,000 for outside legal counsel in a separate case challenging the state’s legislative district boundaries. A Vos spokeswoman didn’t respond to an inquiry regarding the funding Republicans would approve for outside counsel in the Planned Parenthood case if the request were approved.
In the Wisconsin case, Planned Parenthood is seeking to block provisions that bar qualified nurses from providing abortion services, restricting those services to physicians only; require a woman receiving a medication-induced abortion be given the drug by the same physician on both required clinic visits; and require that the physician who prescribed the abortion drug to be physically present when a patient is handed her pills.
Violation of any of the three provisions is a felony in Wisconsin, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the laws are unconstitutional and seeks a ruling barring the state from enforcing them.
State Journal reporter Mark Sommerhauser contributed to this report.