GOP lawmakers send abortion restrictions to Evers for expected veto

Bipartisan bills on contraception, organ transplants and infant safe harbor also pass

By: - October 27, 2021 4:33 pm
Protesters against abortion bans march in St. Paul, including one dressed up as a Handmaid

Stop Abortion Bans rally | Photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Assembly Republicans passed five bills restricting abortion rights Wednesday, setting the stage for what Democrats said were certain vetoes when they reach their next stop: the desk of Gov. Tony Evers.

Democratic lawmakers voted against all five measures. At a pre-session meeting with reporters, Assembly Democrats dismissed the package of bills as a calculated ploy by Republicans to mobilize their anti-abortion base ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections.

Rep. Lisa Subeck

Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Health Committee, linked the bills to “a national movement to overturn Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. She contrasted the legislation with other proposals that Democrats have introduced, most recently in a series of bills to address disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. “We should be supporting children and families instead of limiting access to vital reproductive health care,” Subeck said.

“We’re seeing directly the same version, the same models, the same attacks, the same sort of culture-divisive wars, happening in states around the country,” said Rep. Gorden Hintz (D-Oshkosh), the Assembly minority leader. “And time and time again, we see legislative Republicans bringing forward bills with the No. One priority not being the people of Wisconsin, not being women’s health in Wisconsin, but the 2022 election.”

Evers vetoed similar legislation in the past, Hintz added. “Republicans know these extreme bills won’t become law.”

At a Republican press conference to preview the session, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) rejected that criticism.

“Just because a bill is errantly vetoed by the governor in a previous session doesn’t mean that we won’t bring the topic up. Gov. Evers keeps introducing the same proposals over and over knowing what their fate is,” Vos said. “Our caucus is proud to be pro-life. These bills should be bipartisan.”

The Assembly’s votes Wednesday were all to concur with the Senate, which previously passed its versions of the anti-abortion bills, one in September and the rest on Oct. 20. The legislation included:

  • AB-6/SB-16, passed 55-38; two Republicans voted no: Reps. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) and Janel Brandtjen (R-Menominee Falls). Would subject health care workers to potential felony charges in the rare instances that an abortion procedure culminates in a live birth. The legislation requires that health care personnel immediately transport the newborn to a hospital and take other steps to preserve the infant’s life and health. Medical providers opposed to the bill have described such scenarios as extremely rare and said existing laws already address them.
  • AB-493/SB-503, passed 55-38; Republicans Wichgers and Rep.Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) voted no. Would cut funds for health care providers that provide abortions by barring the state Department of Health Services (DHS) from certifying them for the Medicaid assistance program.
  • AB-593/SB-591, passed 55-39, with Wichgers and Ramthun voting no. Would require doctors to tell women planning a medication abortion that the first drug in the two-drug process “may not result in an immediate abortion,” and that the woman “may be able to continue the pregnancy” if she changes her mind after taking it. The Wisconsin section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the bill “gross interference in the physician-patient relationship” based on misinformation.
  • AB-594/SB-592, passed 57-37 on party lines. Would require physicians to provide information mandated by the Legislature to patients who receive findings of fetal abnormalities.
  • AB-595/SB-593, passed 55-39, with Wichgers and Ramthun voting no. Would criminalize abortions chosen based on the biological sex, disability, race or nationality of the fetus.

In a statement Tuesday, Wichgers announced his intentions on the four bills he subsequently voted against: AB-6/SB-16, because it would not allow for the prosecution of the mother of an infant born after an abortion; and the other three because of various exceptions that the bills made to the restrictions that they impose. Amendments that he proposed deleting the exceptions in “were not allowed to be voted on in committee,” he stated.

The Assembly concurred on a voice vote — with audible “no” votes — with the Senate version of a resolution declaring October 2021 “Right to Life Month in Wisconsin.” Resolutions are not subject to the governor’s veto.

Amid the partisan division over abortion and reproductive rights were three bills that touched on some similar or related issues but left abortion rights alone, drawing bipartisan support.

One, AB-36, would permit pharmacists to directly prescribe some hormonal contraceptives: those delivered via a patch along with birth control pills. It was the one piece of legislation to draw its sole opposition from Republican lawmakers, on a vote of 83-7.

Rep. Joel Kitchens

The bill “decreases unplanned pregnancies, and by doing so decreases abortions, it saves tax dollars and reduces generational poverty,” Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), the legislation’s author, said at a Republican pre-session press conference.

Alluding to the opposition within his own caucus, Kitchens added, “I respect the moral opposition that some people have to birth control, but I think that it’s not right for a small minority to impose their rules on the rest of the state.”

Another, AB-539/SB-538, would prevent health care providers from refusing to provide an organ transplant to a patient just because the patient is disabled. The Senate passed its version of the bill on a voice vote Oct. 20, and the Assembly concurred on a voice vote Wednesday.

The third, AB-560/SB-555, would require public school districts that provide human growth and development classes to include information on the state statute that permits a parent to give up custody of a newborn infant to hospital, law enforcement or emergency medical services personnel. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote Monday, and the Assembly concurred Wednesday.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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