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Wis. Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban

Wis. Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban

July 21, 2015 — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday signed a bill (Act 56) that bans abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Politico reports (Collins, Politico, 7/20).

The law is scheduled to take effect in 2016 (Center for Reproductive Rights release, 7/20). According to the Guttmacher Institute, the legislation makes Wisconsin the 13th state with a ban on abortion at 20 weeks' gestation. Wisconsin previously banned abortion after fetal viability, which is estimated to be at about 24 weeks (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/10).

A federal 20-week ban (S 1553) is also under consideration in Congress (Sullivan, The Hill, 7/20).

Bill Details

Wisconsin's 20-week ban 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 that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks.

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. In addition, a woman who received an abortion after 20 weeks can sue the physician who performed the abortion for damages. The man involved in the pregnancy also is allowed to sue the physician, except in cases in which the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

Further, the bill requires 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 also requires 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 permits physicians to perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if a woman likely will experience permanent injuries or die within 24 hours. The bill does not include exceptions for instances of rape or incest (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/10).

Legal Challenges

The bill is expected to face legal challenges, the AP/Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports (AP/Eau-Claire Leader-Telegram, 7/21).

In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 20-week abortion ban in Idaho was unconstitutional. Similar bans have been blocked in Arizona and Georgia, while a federal appeals court in May ruled that a 12-week ban in Arkansas also was unconstitutional (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/10).

Meanwhile, Walker on Monday expressed confidence that the law would survive any potential lawsuit (The Hill, 7/20).

Women's Health Supporters Respond

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "Wisconsin politicians have criminalized safe, legal abortion services at the same time they are attempting to eliminate all abortion services by shutting down clinics with sham laws and red tape."

She added, "With this law, women in Wisconsin will soon face a catch-22 of shrinking options earlier in pregnancy and a complete ban on services later in pregnancy. Women deserve to make their own health care decisions with the medical professionals she trusts, not interference from her governor or legislature who presume to know better" (CRR release, 7/20).

Sasha Bruce of NARAL Pro-Choice America said, "The truth is that Scott Walker lied to Wisconsin voters when he was elected governor after saying that abortion is between a woman and her doctor" (AP/Eau-Claire Leader-Telegram, 7/21).