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Wisconsin Considers Extreme Anti-Abortion Bills

Part of a national wave to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom

Jul. 9, 2013
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Like Texas and North Carolina, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature is in the midst of passing highly restrictive anti-abortion laws, including one that forces a woman to undergo an invasive ultrasound prior to terminating her pregnancy. The bill also requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, which will lead to the closure of two abortion clinics.

That portion of the bill was temporarily put on hold by a federal judge on Monday.

Bills banning sex-selection abortions, prohibiting public employees’ health insurance from covering abortion services, and exempting religious organizations’ insurance plans from covering contraception also passed the state Assembly and likely will be taken up by the state Senate in the fall.

A bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy is also in the works.

These anti-abortion bills are similar to those popping up in statehouses around the country and seem to be based on anti-abortion model legislation written by the national group Americans United for Life (AUL), whose motto is “changing law to protect human life, state by state.”

Despite their similarities, an AUL spokeswoman denied that the Wisconsin bills were modeled on those offered by Americans United for Life.

State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who introduced the ultrasound bill, did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.


No Need to Overturn Roe v. Wade to Restrict Abortion

Like the pro-business group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Life provides sample bills that can be copied or modified and introduced in statehouses throughout the country. It works on federal policy as well and has created a “constitutional law and abortion primer” for law students.

Unlike the highly secretive ALEC, AUL posts its 2013 model legislation and policy guides on its website and in a policy handbook.

“Our model legislation enables legislators to easily introduce bills without needing to research and write the bills themselves, helping ensure that their efforts will have the desired impact and withstand judicial scrutiny,” its website notes.

AUL’s bills would, among other things, investigate and defund Planned Parenthood, ban partial-birth abortions, honor pregnancy care centers, prohibit human cloning and human embryo research, allow embryos to be adopted and provide “freedom of conscience” protection to pharmacists and other health care providers who disagree with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage.

Nicole Safar, policy director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said the Wisconsin bills are “absolutely” part of a national strategy to restrict abortion without overturning Roe v. Wade.

“The reality is that they don’t have to overturn Roe v. Wade to make abortion inaccessible,” Safar said. “The anti-abortion restrictions that they’re passing across the country are shutting down clinics in other states and here in Wisconsin. You’re seeing them make it a much more onerous process for a woman to get an abortion all across the state. It’s becoming unaffordable because insurance can’t pay for it. I think it’s a very coordinated strategy to get to the point where safe abortion is inaccessible in this country.”


Bill Fast-Tracked in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s ultrasound bill sailed through the Legislature in a week while lawmakers were putting the final touches on the state budget in June. Gov. Scott Walker signed it on Friday, July 5, during the holiday weekend.

“I think the horror of forcing a woman to go through this procedure that she does not want, that is not medically indicated and that a physician does not want to do is incredibly frightening,” said state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood), a former nurse. “And the way they did this, in the shadow of the budget—it’s not registering with the public.”

The state’s two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, have filed a federal lawsuit because it would force two clinics to end its abortion services. Abortions would only be offered in Madison and Milwaukee if the law is implemented. U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a temporary injunction on the hospital admitting privileges portion on Monday, and will hear arguments on it July 17.

The Wisconsin bill seems to be a mash-up of two pieces of AUL legislation, the Women’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act and the Abortion Providers’ Privileging Act.

In the introduction to the ultrasound model bill, AUL’s Vice President of Legal Affairs, Denise M. Burke, wrote that ultrasound requirements can help to diagnose ectopic pregnancies and increase the likelihood that a woman would feel “bonded” to her fetus.

“Once that bond is established, researchers argue, a woman no longer feels ambivalent toward her pregnancy and actually begins to feel invested in her unborn child,” Burke wrote.

The Wisconsin bill would require women to undergo an ultrasound, hear a description of the fetus and its heartbeat and view the images on a screen. The woman could avert her eyes or wear headphones so that she doesn’t have to see or hear the mandated images and descriptions.

All of the mainstream medical organizations in the state opposed the legislation.

The Wisconsin bill also prohibits a physician from performing an abortion unless he or she has admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. That allows hospitals to determine which doctors, if any, may perform abortions.

The new law appears to be modeled on AUL’s Abortion Providers Privileging Act and falls in line with a national anti-abortion strategy to enact Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws to force clinics to shut down by imposing highly burdensome regulations on them.


Pasch: ‘A Really Tragic Sideshow’

The Wisconsin Assembly also passed a bill that would ban gender-based abortions, which is similar to AUL’s Ban on Abortions for Sex Selection and Genetic Abnormalities. Pasch said Wisconsin’s bill is so extreme it would allow the woman’s partner, parents or partner’s parents to get access to her medical records to find out if she had a gender-specific abortion and then sue the doctor if she did.

“I’m sure that’s going to be ruled unconstitutional,” Pasch said. “So why are they doing this?”

Also in the works is a Wisconsin Right to Life-drafted bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks’ pregnancy, similar to the controversial bill filibustered by state Sen. Wendy Davis in Texas and AUL’s Women’s Health Defense Act. The Texas bill also included stringent regulations on clinics.

Planned Parenthood’s Safar questioned why Wisconsin Right to Life, a special interest group, was drafting the bill, instead of a state lawmaker.

“When you hear bill sponsors testify on these bills they can’t answer basic questions about what the law will do,” Safar said. “They are allowing these lobbying groups to write their laws.”

Wisconsin Right to Life didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.

Pasch said that when the latest round of anti-abortion bills were introduced she thought they were too extreme to be taken seriously. But she said she’s bracing herself for more of them to be introduced in the fall session.

“It’s a really tragic sideshow that’s going on,” Pasch said.


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