Republicans, including Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), pushed back on the idea that abortion is health care during a heated debate on Tuesday. (Screenshot via WisEye)
Assembly Republicans passed a bill on Thursday that would ask voters to decide whether Wisconsin would implement a 14-week abortion ban, tightening the state’s current 20-week abortion ban.
Throughout two-and-a-half hours of heated debate on the bill, Democrats argued that politicians need to stay out of people’s medical decisions completely, while Republicans argued it was time to allow voters to have a say on whether the state’s abortion restrictions get stricter and that abortion was not health care. Many Republicans also felt the 14-week abortion ban didn’t go far enough. The bill passed 53-46.
“Consensual abortions up to 20 weeks are legal in Wisconsin today. They are being legally performed in Milwaukee, Madison and Sheboygan,” bill coauthor Rep. Amanda Nedweski (R-Pleasant Prairie) said during a press conference. “Despite disappointing efforts of some pro-life organizations to mischaracterize AB 975, the truth is that as of right now, there is no 1849 abortion ban in effect. That is the sad reality.”
Republicans introduced the bill at the end of last week, and quickly gave it a public hearing, where physicians, medical students and pro-life groups testified against the bill, on the 51st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
The bill is Republicans’ latest proposal that would tighten abortion laws in Wisconsin since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which eliminated federal abortion protections. It also comes after a decision by a Dane County judge that Wisconsin’s 1849 law, which had been widely interpreted as banning almost all abortions, actually applies only to feticide. Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.
“It’s… nothing more than a proposal to ask the voters of Wisconsin a question: Should the current law allowing abortions up to 20 weeks be changed to 14 weeks?” Nedweski told reporters.
If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Tony Evers, voters would be asked to approve the 14-week ban in a binding referendum, meaning it would become law, during the April 2024 elections.
But Evers has criticized and promised to veto the bill several times, including at his State of the State address and ahead of the vote.
“Wisconsinites should have the freedom to make their own decisions about their reproductive healthcare,” Evers wrote on social media on Thursday. “Republican legislators should have nothing to do with it.”
Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) proposed several amendments that would have replaced the 14-week abortion ban with other policies, including one that would designate an unborn child as a dependent for tax purposes and one that would prohibit public employees from engaging in activities related to abortion. He argued that since the bill had no support during the hearing, there should be an alternative. All his proposals were shot down.
Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said during the floor session that the issue at hand was one of reproductive freedom and who gets to make decisions about one’s health care.
“Politicians should not be making our reproductive health care choices for us…. These are decisions that are deeply personal. Every pregnancy is different, and these are individual personal decisions that should be made between a patient and [a] physician and others who we may choose to involve.”
Subeck pointed out that an advisory referendum is something that she has supported before, but that the binding referendum, which lawmakers were discussing, would allow people to make a final decision about when someone would be able to get an abortion.
“If I’m in my physician’s office and I’m making my health care decisions, I don’t want my neighbors making those decisions for me. I don’t want people across the state making those decisions for me,” Subeck said.
She added that it was clear that Republicans are trying to restrict access where they can, and they think people should not have access to abortion.
Republican lawmakers dismissed the idea that abortion is health care.
“I struggled with this legislation here before us today, but I am supporting it because I believe, if enacted, it will help reduce the loss of life,” Rep. Bob Donovan (R-Greenfield) said. “I am pro-life and I am Catholic, and I believe that abortion is the taking of a human being.”
Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) said that the question about whether politicians should have a say in women’s health care was irrelevant. He argued that abortion is not health care, saying that a fetus is a human life. He used his experience working with animals to make his point.
“In my veterinary career, I did thousands of ultrasounds on animals, you know, determining pregnancy and that kind of thing,” Kitchens said. “I think I know mammalian fetal development better than probably anyone here, and in my mind, there’s absolutely no question, that’s a life, and I think, the science backs me up on that.”
Kitchens added that he recognizes that not everyone will agree with him and the bill would allow the public to “decide what our morality is.”
Exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest after the 14 weeks were added to the bill during a Tuesday executive session. Nedweski told reporters on Thursday that the decision was made to add the exceptions due to feedback from the public.
Nedweski said during the floor session, however, that while she supports exceptions, she also believes in personal responsibility and thinks abortion shouldn’t be readily available.
“At the end of the day, unless you have been in a tragic situation outside of your control, if a woman doesn’t want to become pregnant, there are choices involved in that,” Nedweski said. “Abortion as readily available birth control relieves people of taking personal responsibilities for their actions and places the blame and the consequences on a baby.”
Reps. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), Janel Brandtjen (R- Menomonee Falls), Jerry L. O’Connor (R-Fond Du Lac), Elijah Behnke (R-Oconto), Joy Goeben (Hobart), Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger), Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser), Dave Maxey (R-New Berlin), Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Wichgers joined Democrats against the bill.
The bill will now go to the Senate.
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