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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Republican bill would ban abortion after 14 weeks in Wisconsin

Although the bill does not offer exceptions for rape and incest, some anti-abortion groups said it was not restrictive enough.

Lawmakers held a hearing on a Republican-led bill to approve a 14-week abortion ban through a binding statewide referendum Monday, drawing criticism from Democrats and anti-abortion groups. 

The bill’s authors, GOP Reps. Amanda Nedweski of Pleasant Prairie and Donna Rozar of Marshfield, introduced the legislation Friday. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers indicated Sunday he will veto the bill if the Legislature passes it.

Current law allows for abortions performed up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. If passed, the bill would place the referendum on the ballot on April 2, coinciding with the presidential primary election. 

The proposed referendum question provides no exceptions for rape and incest after 14 weeks of pregnancy, though it does allow an abortion to be performed in a “medical emergency” if medical professionals deem the pregnancy to be fatal or cause “irreversible physical impairment.”  

Nedweski said at Monday’s hearing the bill “puts the power back in the hands of the people where it belongs” by allowing Wisconsin residents to directly weigh in on abortion policy in the state.

She urged the Assembly Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care to move her proposed referendum forward.

“Political parties use abortion as an emotional shiny object to distract people from what’s really going on,” Nedweski said. “If the people have a voice in settling this issue, we might actually be able to focus on some other issues that affect our state.”

Rozar said the bill would avoid a potential ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s newly elected liberal majority, which is likely to hear an appeal of a challenge to the state’s 1849 law banning abortion from fertilization. 

Democratic lawmakers have stood firm against abortion bans in Wisconsin. Last year, lawmakers introduced a bill that would restore abortion rights by repealing the 1849 ban, but the Republican majority rejected the proposal. 

“I know when I’m sitting in my OB-GYN office, I don’t want somebody sending a ballot off to try to make a decision on how to proceed on whatever it is for which I need treatment,” Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said during the hearing. 

Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, and Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said in a statement “any proposal that makes abortion more difficult to access, including the one before us today, is a nonstarter.”

Additionally, Evers said in March 2023 he would not sign any bill that “leaves Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.”

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Some anti-abortion organizations testified against the bill Monday, arguing it does not go far enough to restrict abortion access. Wisconsin Family Action Legislative and Policy Director Jack Hoogendyk said the Legislature should wait until the state Supreme Court rules on the lawsuit before passing new abortion restrictions.

“Don’t water down one of the best laws in the United States protecting the unborn,” Hoogendyk said. “Let’s fight to preserve that law.”

Health providers halted abortion services in Wisconsin in June 2022, when the 1849 ban took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

In July 2023, a Dane County Circuit judge ruled the 1849 law applied only to feticide, not elective abortion. In response, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin resumed abortion services up to 20 weeks of pregnancy at three Wisconsin clinics in Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan.

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Francesca Pica

Francesca Pica is the city news editor emeritus for The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple municipal elections and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. Additionally, she served as a summer intern for The Capital Times and currently serves as a WisPolitics intern. 

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