State Assembly Republicans on Wednesday passed a package of bills to restrict abortion, as well as one that supporters say would protect a fetus born alive after an attempted abortion.
The Assembly voted 62-35 to pass the latter bill, which now heads to the state Senate. Gov. Tony Evers has signaled he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, while declining to say if he supports a ban on abortion six weeks into a pregnancy, signaled support for the rationale underlying such bans in remarks to reporters before Wednesday’s session. Iowa lawmakers recently adopted a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
“Do I believe that once there’s a detectable heartbeat, it’s a baby? I do,” Vos said.
Vos’ comments come as lawmakers in Alabama sparked a national firestorm Tuesday by passing a near-total abortion ban, which the state’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed Wednesday. Supporters of that measure say it is meant to spark a review by the U.S. Supreme Court of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
In Wisconsin, the “born alive” bill would require a health care provider who is present when a fetus survives an abortion or abortion attempt to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” as would be given “to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”
It also makes “intentionally causing the death of a child born alive as a result of an abortion or an attempted abortion” a felony with a penalty of life imprisonment — the same penalty as first-degree intentional homicide.
“Children who miraculously survive abortion shouldn’t be treated any differently than anyone else in this state,” the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said during Wednesday’s floor debate.
Democrats called the abortion bill package a diversion from the state budget debate and the popularity of the budget proposal offered by Evers.
“It’s introduced to distract from an agenda that’s overwhelmingly supported by the people of Wisconsin,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
Author: Backstop to other laws
President Donald Trump was speaking about the born-alive bill at his rally in Green Bay last month when he repeated a claim — which doctors and health care groups say is false and reckless — that doctors are “executing” babies.
During a Wednesday press conference before the Assembly session, Steineke wouldn’t say if he concurs with Trump’s remarks.
Critics question if the bill would have any impact because babies being born alive after an abortion attempt is extremely rare. Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that supports Steineke’s bill, said it hasn’t heard of any cases in the state since 1982.
Steineke and other bill supporters cite the case of a Pennsylvania doctor, Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murdering three infants who were born alive during attempted abortion procedures.
There also are multiple laws that appear to prevent the bill from having any effect. Wisconsin already bans abortions after 20 weeks — before the point of fetal viability outside the womb — and federal law provides legal protections to all babies born alive, including after an abortion attempt.
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Steineke said his bill is meant as a backstop if those laws are repealed.
“We know that given the opportunity of full control of the Legislature and governor’s mansion, that 20-week abortion ban would be gone overnight,” he said.
Another bill passed by the Assembly Wednesday, 62-35, would bar abortion selection on the basis of factors such as the fetus’ gender, race or disability. It would bar providers from performing abortions if they know the mother is seeking the abortion solely on the basis of those factors.
Lawmakers cannot say they are advocates for people with disabilities “when we also champion their extermination in the womb,” argued the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc.
Democrats cite Medicaid expansion
A bill that passed the Assembly 64-32 on Wednesday would make health providers ineligible for the state’s Medicaid program if they perform abortions, with certain exceptions.
Another bill, which passed 62-35, would require providers to report more information to the state about abortions they perform. It also requires providers to notify women who seek abortions by drug-regimen methods such as the RU-486 pill — but who later change their minds and wish to continue their pregnancy — that they may be able to reverse the effects of the drug before the pregnancy has been terminated if they contact a physician.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he expects the Senate to take up the abortion bills in June.
Democrats called the abortion bills a distraction from another measure they said would save lives of mothers and children: Evers’ plan in his budget proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility to 82,000 Wisconsinites. Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee removed that measure from Evers’ budget last week, though Evers and Democrats say they’ll continue fighting for it.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said the protections in the born-alive bill “already are the law of the land.”
“What isn’t already the law of the land is Medicaid expansion, and you’ve made darn sure that no lives will be saved under that,” Taylor said.
Amendment sent to voters
Lawmakers also voted Wednesday to pass “Marsy’s Law,” a constitutional amendment bolstering the rights of crime victims. The state Senate passed the amendment, 27-5, and the state Assembly passed it 82-15.
The amendment now goes before voters in April 2020. It aims to give victims more say in criminal prosecutions, stipulating a list of their rights including the ability to discuss their case with prosecutors and the right to be notified of any release of the alleged offender in their case, or of their escape or death.
It would also grant the right to refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused or their lawyers — which some critics say could make it harder for the accused to defend themselves.
The Senate also voted unanimously to confirm the state’s chief elections official, elections administrator Meagan Wolfe. Wolfe is the top staffer for the bipartisan state Elections Commission.