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Wis. Lawmakers Introduce 20-Week Abortion Ban

Wis. Lawmakers Introduce 20-Week Abortion Ban

May 8, 2015 — Wisconsin lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/7).

Current state law bans abortion after fetal viability, which is estimated to be at about 24 weeks (Sommerhauser, Chippewa Herald, 5/8). According to the Journal Sentinel, 13 states currently impose abortion bans at 18 or 20 weeks' gestation, with West Virginia poised to implement such a ban in June. Of those state bans, three have been blocked by courts.

Bill Details

The 20-week legislation is based on the unfounded notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no legitimate scientific evidence showing that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/7).

Physicians who violate the ban could face felony charges, fines of up to $10,000 and potential jail time of up to three years and six months (Ferguson, AP/Green Bay Press Gazette, 5/7). In addition, a woman who received an abortion after 20 weeks could sue the physician who performed the abortion for damages. The man involved in the pregnancy would also be allowed to sue the physician, except in cases in which the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/7).

Further, the bill would require physicians to tell women the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus and estimate the probability of the fetus surviving outside of the womb. It would also require doctors to tell women that perinatal hospice care is available for infants who are expected to live short lives. State law already requires physicians to tell women seeking abortions the fetus' likely gestational age in writing and orally (Opoien, Madison Capital Times, 5/7).

Next Steps

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, state lawmakers have not set a timeline for the legislation, although state Senate President Mary Lazich (R) said she wants the Legislature to pass the bill by this summer.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said Vos would like the legislation to be changed to add exemptions for cases of rape and incest, which Lazich opposes (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/7). Vos said, "[W]e'll have to have a caucus discussion to decide whether or not we want to have possible amendments" for rape and incest "or if we even want to move the bill at all" (Madison Capital Times, 5/7).

Reaction

According to the Chippewa Herald, Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Thursday reiterated his support for such a ban (Chippewa Herald, 5/8). He had originally indicated in March that he would sign such legislation if it passes the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) said the measure would "jeopardize women's safety and prevent health professionals from making life-saving medical decisions." She added, "For victims of rape and incest and women with rare and unexpected medical complications, this bill [would] limit their freedom to choose and prevent health professionals from delivering the highest standard of medical care" (Madison Capital Times, 5/7).

State Rep. Lisa Subeck (D) said the bill was an example of antiabortion-rights lawmakers "playing politics with women's health, inserting themselves into decisions that should be made privately between a woman and her doctor" (Chippewa Herald, 5/8).