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women’s health | republicans seek to toughen state restrictions

Wisconsin lawmakers propose 20-week abortion ban; Scott Walker on board


Wisconsin lawmakers are readying a bill to ban abortions at 20 weeks into a pregnancy, a measure Gov. Scott Walker has said he supports.

Four GOP lawmakers — Rep. Jesse Kremer, of Kewaskum; Sen. Mary Lazich, of New Berlin; Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, of West Allis; and Rep. Joan Ballweg, of Markesan — announced the bill Thursday in a memo to colleagues.

The bill would ban abortions at the point when some say a fetus is capable of experiencing pain, according to a draft circulated to lawmakers. If enacted, it would add Wisconsin to the list of at least 10 states with similar restrictions.

Experts are divided on the question of when a fetus can feel pain. The GOP bill says a fetus is capable of experiencing pain at the age of 20 weeks.

It provides an exception to the ban only in cases where a woman undergoes a medical emergency.

Current state law bans abortions after a fetus reaches viability, except to preserve the life or health of the mother. The law doesn’t specify the point in a pregnancy at which viability is reached, leaving that determination to a doctor. Many experts estimate it’s about 24 weeks.

Kremer, the bill’s Assembly author, said in a statement that it “will preserve and protect Wisconsin’s innocent, unborn babies who can feel pain.”

“I believe we have a duty and a moral obligation to protect these children from the horrific procedures used to snuff out their lives,” Kremer said.

Democratic lawmakers blasted the bill as an attempt to meddle in women’s health care decisions.

The type of late-term abortions that would be affected by the bill are rare, they said. About 99 percent of U.S. abortions occur at or before the 20-week mark, according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute, a group that supports abortion rights.

When late-term abortions do occur they often result from health complications, said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse.

“We need to protect a woman’s freedom to make decisions about her health care and prevent further political intrusion into personal decisions that are best left to a woman, her doctor, her family and her faith,” Shilling said.

Reps. Lisa Subeck and Melissa Sargent, both Madison Democrats, also issued statements decrying the proposal.

“Republicans are playing politics with women’s health, inserting themselves into decisions that should be made privately between a woman and her doctor, in a desperate attempt to distract attention from their self-imposed disaster of a budget,” Subeck said.

Walker signaled in March that he favors the ban. He reiterated that position Thursday at an event in Milwaukee.

Doctors who violate the proposed ban would be guilty of a felony and subject to a fine of as much as $10,000 and as much as three and a half years of combined prison and extended supervision.

A civil component to the bill would allow a woman on whom a 20-week abortion is performed or attempted to bring a claim for damages against anyone who violates the ban. A father also could bring such a claim except in cases of rape or incest.

Some states that attempted to impose late-term abortion bans, including Arizona and Idaho, saw them delayed or struck down in the courts.

State Journal Reporter Dee J. Hall contributed to this report.


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