AUSTIN, TX-Thousands of protesters came out in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Two Republican Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a bill that mirrors the Texas ban on most abortions, complete with a $10,000 bounty “reward” for any citizen who sues someone providing an abortion. The bill makes no exception for victims of rape or incest.
Bill authors Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) and Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield) have drafted the bill, apparently unwilling to wait until this summer when many are predicting that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which would bring back an even more stringent law in Wisconsin that makes all abortion a felony crime in Wisconsin due to a 1849 statute still on the books.
“Time and time again, the GOP members of the Legislature have demonstrated just how far they are willing to go to restrict access to abortion,” said Mike Murray, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “For Republican members of the state Legislature, criminalizing abortion in Wisconsin isn’t enough. They are now doubling down on banning abortion through this new, dangerous Texas-style abortion ban … along with a $10,000 bounty reward for people to sue anyone who provides abortion care.”
He points out that in Texas the law has amounted to “practically a complete ban on abortion because it would prohibit abortion before almost anyone knows that they are pregnant.”
The GOP authors misleadingly label it a “fetal heartbeat bill” with language attempting to designate exactly how health care providers would have to identify a heartbeat in a fetus, “based on the probable postfertilization age of the unborn child and condition of the woman and her pregnancy.” Doctors explain that there is no cardiovascular system or heartbeat that early in a pregnancy and what is being heard is an electrical pulse.
The bill also requires the Medical Examining Board to investigate any physician “alleged” to have preformed an abortion for “unprofessional conduct,” according to the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis on the bill.
The bill is a match with Texas’ law with one slight difference, says Michelle Velasquez, an attorney and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s director of legal advocacy and services. It currently does not contain the “aiding and abetting” clause from the Texas statute. That applies to someone who drives a person to get an abortion or provides money to cover costs. Both the Texas law and the Wisconsin bill and 1849 law all target the health care workers providing the abortion.
“In practicality that has essentially cut off abortion in Texas because most people won’t even know that they’re pregnant until at least that time frame,” says Velasquez. “So we’ve seen the real human tragedy in Texas unfold as people have to access care, if they can, out of state hundreds and hundreds of miles away … using, perhaps, all the resources they have to do that.” Velasquez says that the only other two options left for women seeking an abortion in Texas are being forced to carry the pregnancy to term, or “they will figure out a way, an unsafe way perhaps, to terminate their pregnancy on their own.” She adds, “We have no reason to think that this kind of law in Wisconsin would have any different impact.”
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The bill follows nine other bills extensively restricting abortion that Republicans have passed over the past three years, all of which have been vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has joined other attorneys general in amicus briefs that seek to block the Texas ban.
“Severely restricting reproductive freedom, as this bill proposes, would endanger the health of women in Wisconsin, and I have joined amicus briefs in support of blocking a similar Texas law,” says Kaul, commenting on the Wisconsin bill draft. “Wisconsin should not follow Texas by passing this harmful legislation.”
Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) notes the irony that Wisconsin already has a more stringent law than the Texas-style ban on the books.
“What’s even crazier [than the proposed bill] is that we already have an even more extreme law on the books, a complete abortion ban without exceptions, from 1849,” says Roys. “If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, our law is already sitting on our statute books waiting to be enforced.”
Democratic lawmakers have introduced the Abortion Rights Preservation Act which would remove Wisconsin’s 172-year-old criminal abortion statute. Asked about how the statute from the time of Wisconsin statehood might interact with a six-week ban of the type Rozar and Franklin propose if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and potentially returns control to the states if it were to pass, Velasquez says that remains to be seen. “We don’t really know, but they’ll both have that same practical effect, the same real impact” of limiting women to traveling, carrying the pregnancy to term or seeking to end the pregnancy themselves.
For Roys, the new bill only highlights the importance of the governor’s race in Wisconsin. Candidate and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was endorsed Thursday by Wisconsin Family Action PAC. “Time and again, Rebecca has proven she is pro-life — that she is dedicated to the biological reality that life begins at conception and deserves protection from that moment,” Executive Director Julaine Appling said in a statement. The group’s endorsement coincided with former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson officially entering the 2022 governor’s race on Thursday morning, creating a higher profile Republican primary.
“Radical Rebecca Kleefisch has long wanted to outlaw all abortions — and if she becomes governor, Wisconsin will be the next Texas thanks to our gerrymandered, anti-choice Legislature,” says Roys, the Senate author of the Abortion Rights Preservation Act. She adds that this stance ignores public opinion: “Despite the overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites and Americans wanting abortion to remain safe and legal, Republican politicians are doing everything they can to make it a crime.”
Planned Parenthood’s Murray also sees the mere introduction of the bill as a threat, despite the fact that in the current session any such bill that passes is nearly certain to be vetoed by Evers. In fact, at a new conference Evers held Thursday on the state surplus, he was asked about the bill and replied that he hasn’t read it, but reiterated his support for a woman’s right to make their own decisions “in consultation with their doctors,” saying it was not something legislators should intervene in and said the legislation “sounds like… a non-starter.”
“For the thousands of women who have been forced to travel hundreds of miles outside of Texas at great cost to get the care they need and for those who have been forced to carry a pregnancy against their will, the Texas law has been devastating,” he added. “Our elected leaders need to hear from their constituents that this attack on reproductive freedom will not be tolerated. Everyone deserves the ability to make their own health care decisions and access the health care they need – including abortion.”
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