Senate approves felony charges for health care workers in anti-abortion bill

‘This body has a really unfortunate track record when it comes to actually saving women and babies’

By: - September 28, 2021 5:56 pm
Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. The vigil was held to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. The vigil was held to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Republicans in the state Legislature have been moving swiftly forward on an anti-abortion bill that Gov. Tony Evers already vetoed once and will veto again when it reaches his desk — a bill that addresses an extremely rare situation already covered by other laws.

All of that notwithstanding, the state Senate voted 19-12 on Tuesday along partisan lines to pass SB-12, a so-called ‘born alive’ bill that would charge health care workers with a felony if an attempted abortion results in a live birth and measures are not taken to preserve the life and health of a child and transport it immediately to a hospital. The penalty would mirror that of a first-degree intentional homicide.

Wisconsin State Senator Roth | State Department photo by Ron Przysucha

Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton), the author of the bill, said that it “clarifies the ambiguity that exists on what care needs to be provided to a newborn that is born alive after a failed abortion.” He called it “anti-murder,” asking, “How could anyone object to this?”

Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), a long-time pro-choice advocate who gave birth just three weeks ago, had a response to what she labeled “inflammatory, false rhetoric [to] further an anti-choice agenda” coming from the bill’s Republican backers.

Sen. Kelda Roys wearing a mask and face shield on the Senate floor on Feb. 18, 2021
Sen. Kelda Roys
(screenshot via Wis Eye)

“This body has a really unfortunate track record when it comes to actually saving women and babies,” said Roys. She cited the Legislature’s refusal to pass paid parental leave or expand access to child care, as well as the GOP’s repeated rejection of BadgerCare expansion, which has been shown to lower infant and maternal mortality in other states. “It’s one of the easiest ways, one of the most cost effective ways to save the lives of women and babies,” said Roys of expanding Medicaid. “And yet time and again, this body has refused to do just that.”

Her personal experience in the Senate this year, she noted, also makes it hard for her to take people backing the measure seriously on the topic of protecting babies.

“The data is so clear that pregnancy is extremely dangerous if you get an COVID,” said Roys. “On a personal note, I came to this body day after day, month after month while I was pregnant. And you all knew that, and yet many of the people in this room supporting this bill refused to so much as wear a mask, even though as a pregnant person, I was 15 times more likely to die of COVID than people who are not pregnant.”

Roth argued that the bill did not duplicate infanticide law because it specifically mentioned abortion. “Senate Bill 16 says that a survivor of abortion is entitled to the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of a child than any other child born alive would receive. Following the administration of that care, a survivor would need to be immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”

A baby surviving an attempted abortion is rare. The Annenberg Public Policy Center collected data in 2019 from the CDC showing that over 12 years (ending in 2014) there were “143 deaths involving induced terminations” of pregnancies during that 12-year period, 97 of which “involved a maternal complication or, one or more congenital anomalies.” There were nearly 50 million live births over that same period.

The bill is one of a half-dozen anti-abortion bills introduced this session in the Legislature. Registered as lobbying against the bills are the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Wisconsin section;  End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin: the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Groups registered as lobbying in favor of the bills are Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Family Action and Wisconsin Right to Life.

Pro-Life Wisconsin has taken a stance against the bill as being ‘flawed’ because it only prosecutes health care professionals, but does not charge the woman having the abortion with a crime.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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