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Wis. 20-Week Abortion Ban Problematic, But Will Not Affect Abortion Clinic Service, Clinic Officials Say

Wis. 20-Week Abortion Ban Problematic, But Will Not Affect Abortion Clinic Service, Clinic Officials Say

June 19, 2015 — If enacted, legislation (S 179) proposed in Wisconsin that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy would not affect abortion services at the four abortion clinics in the state, according to clinic officials, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Hahn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/17).

The state Senate approved the ban earlier this month (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/10). The Assembly has not decided when it will consider the legislation (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/17). Meanwhile, Gov. Scott Walker's (R) office has said the governor would sign the bill if it is approved by the state Legislature.

Bill Details

Current state law bans abortion after fetal viability, which is estimated to be at about 24 weeks.

Physicians who violate the proposed 20-week ban could face felony charges, fines of up to $10,000 and potential jail time of up to three years and six months. 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 also would be allowed to sue the physician, except in cases in which the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

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.

The measure includes exceptions for cases of medical emergencies but does not clearly define the term. Currently, it would not allow for exemptions in cases of rape and incest (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/10).

Providers: Ban Will Not Affect Service, But Remains Problematic

Kathy King, the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said the bill would not affect the abortion clinics in the state because in Wisconsin abortions at that point in pregnancy usually are performed in hospitals.

However, she added, "Even though (the bill) doesn't affect large numbers of women and families, those that it does affect may be the most vulnerable because these are circumstances where the woman's health is severely threatened or the fetus essentially is nonviable."

Similarly, Wendie Ashlock, director of Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee, said some women seeking abortion care after 20 weeks' gestation are "young women" who might not realize they are pregnant or "women who have been sexually assaulted and are fearful about coming out with the pregnancy," but that most of the women AMS serves who are later in pregnancy are cases of fetal anomalies. According to the Journal Sentinel, AMS refers women seeking abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy to out-of-state clinics (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/17).