Legislative Republicans on Wednesday proposed adding limited rape, incest and health exceptions to the state’s near-complete abortion ban, but the bill appeared to have foundered later in the day after the Senate’s top Republican said it wouldn’t be taken up in that house.
Five hours after the bill was announced Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said his chamber, which is split on the topic, would not bring it to a vote. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has also repeatedly said he would not sign any bill that allows even an amended version of the state’s existing abortion ban on the books.
“Further discussion on this specific proposal is unnecessary,” LeMahieu said, citing Evers’ opposition to the proposal. “The bill will not be considered on the floor of the Senate.”
Republican lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, unveiled the bill Wednesday morning in the Capitol. The bill was the most significant Wisconsin Republican abortion proposal since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. The decision appeared to reactivate the state’s near-complete abortion ban, which hadn’t been in use for 50 years and was first passed in 1849, although that interpretation is being challenged in court.
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“Is this an ideal bill? No, it’s not an ideal bill because we should be protecting all life, but this is not an ideal world, this is a world where bad things happen, tragic things happen, horrific things happen to people,” bill co-author Rep. Donna Rozar, R-Marshfield, told reporters Wednesday. “It is in the best interest to put these exceptions in there.”
Even if the measure were to make it through the Legislature, Evers said he will not sign it into law, saying the measure would leave Wisconsin women with “fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.” Evers has sought to codify Roe, which established a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus is viable.
Bill co-author Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, acknowledged Wednesday morning that Republicans did not have the 17 Senate votes needed to pass the measure. After signing on to the bill, Vos, R-Rochester, said he thinks he can get at least 50 votes in the Assembly. It’s unclear if the measure will move forward in the Assembly with the Senate signaling no interest in discussing the matter.
Legislative Democrats also pushed back against the proposal, which, if passed, could disrupt legal efforts to have a judge strike down the law the bill seeks to amend. In challenging Wisconsin’s ban, Attorney General Josh Kaul said more recent and permissive abortion statutes, passed during the Roe era, supersede the old one. He also said the law is unenforceable because of its disuse.
“An agreement to update the disputed law could very well undercut the current legal challenge,” UW-Madison Law School associate professor Robert Yablon told the Wisconsin State Journal last November. “If an amendment were to build on the 1849 law, that could well be interpreted as an acknowledgement that the 1849 law (as amended) continues to apply.”
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Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate immediately blasted the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, described the bill as “misguided and wholly inadequate,” while Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said the bill “is a political stunt and the GOP knows it.”
“Any legislation that does not provide a woman with autonomy of her own body and her own health care decisions is a nonstarter for my caucus,” Agard added.
Marquette Law School polling in November found that 84% of respondents — including 73% of Republicans — think abortion should be legal for victims of rape or incest. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe.
The measure would change several aspects of Wisconsin’s abortion ban that was first signed in 1849, the year after Wisconsin became a state. It would allow for abortions for rape and incest victims, currently omitted from the ban, only during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Under Roe, abortions were prohibited after 20 or more weeks after fertilization or 22 weeks after the last menstrual cycle. That ban included exceptions for preserving the mother’s life and, in some cases, the mother’s health.
The proposed bill would also allow abortions for cases where a pregnancy causes a serious risk of death of the pregnant woman or a “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.” It would permit abortions when a fetus has no chance of survival outside of the uterus, including an ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy or anembryonic pregnancy. The same would also apply if the fetus has a condition that wouldn’t let it live outside the womb. There would be no time restriction on those health exceptions.
While Vos had previously said he supported requiring victims of sexual assault to file a police report before they could qualify for an abortion under the exceptions, the bill unveiled Wednesday does not include such a requirement.
Democrats have sought to use the current abortion ban to galvanize Wisconsinites ahead of the state Supreme Court election, a race that liberals who support candidate Janet Protasiewicz say offers them the most immediate opportunity to overturn the ban since it offers liberals a chance to win a majority on the seven-member court. Anti-abortion groups back conservative candidate Dan Kelly. The election is April 4.
Vos said the Legislature is unlikely to vote on the bill until after the election. He said he hopes Kelly wins the election so the Supreme Court doesn’t take up legislative decisions.
Republicans also on Wednesday announced they are reintroducing a bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills. The measure passed the Assembly last session but died in the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joel Kitchens said the measure is intended to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
“I think the bottom line is, as Republicans, we don’t want women to be faced with that choice of having to abort and I think that this bill goes a long way toward that goal,” he said.
Legislative Republicans on Wednesday also announced a proposal to prohibit people employed by the state or a local government from providing abortion services, “promoting or encouraging abortion services,” making abortion referrals or providing or receiving training in performing abortions while acting in their governmental role. Evers would almost certainly veto the proposal.
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