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Wis. Gov. Walker Backs Fast-Tracked Antiabortion Bill; Some Clinics Resume Medication Abortion Services

Wis. Gov. Walker Backs Fast-Tracked Antiabortion Bill; Some Clinics Resume Medication Abortion Services

June 13, 2013 — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday said he would sign a multi-faceted antiabortion-rights bill (SB 206) that is quickly advancing through the Republican-controlled Legislature, the AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6/11).

The Senate on Wednesday approved the bill in a 17-15 vote, with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats voting against it. Republicans cut off debate to block Democrats from commenting on the bill, which the Assembly is expected to take up on Thursday (Bauer, AP/Sheboygan Press, 6/12).

The bill would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure. It also would require the doctor or individual performing the ultrasound to try to detect the fetal heartbeat, as well as describe the size, location and number of fetuses and any body parts or organs that are visible. The woman would not be required to look at the ultrasound images or heartbeat monitor, and the bill would not apply in cases of rape, incest or emergencies.

In addition, the bill would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away.

Key Arguments

In debate in a committee on Monday, supporters of the bill said it would help reduce the number of abortions performed in the state and provide women with additional information (Defour, Wisconsin State Journal, 6/11).

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D), who opposes the bill, said it is intended to "tell women they can't think or make decision[s] on their own," while state Sen. Tim Cullen (D) noted that the measure would interfere in physicians' medical decisions (AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6/11).

Teri Huyck, president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, called the bill "a tactic to end abortion access," adding that the admitting privileges requirement would force one of Planned Parenthood's four clinics that provide abortions to close (Wisconsin State Journal, 6/11).

Meanwhile, Republicans dismissed claims that they are fast-tracking abortion-related bills.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said, "These are issues that have been out there for quite some time," adding, "They're not speeding through without opportunity for public discussion" (AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6/11).

Wis. Planned Parenthood Clinics To Resume Medication Abortions

In other Wisconsin news, Planned Parenthood clinics in Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee will resume offering medication abortions after a judge issued a temporary injunction blocking portions of a state law (Act 217) restricting the method, the Wisconsin State Journal reports (Simmons, Wisconsin State Journal, 6/11).

Under the law, physicians and patients have to meet several requirements before a medication abortion, including the completion of three office visits and multiple steps to verify that the woman is seeking the abortion voluntarily (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).

In December, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutionally vague (Wisconsin State Journal, 6/11). According to the suit, physicians who fail to follow the requirements can be subjected to criminal charges, civil penalties or disciplinary action. The suit argued that the law does not clearly spell out what physicians must do to comply with the requirements and should be struck down.

In February, PPWI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice reached an agreement to clarify how the law will be interpreted so that doctors would know whether they are in compliance. However, a federal judge dismissed the proposed agreement because it would end the constitutional dispute in the case and thus place the matter outside of her jurisdiction. PPWI later refiled the suit in Dane County Circuit Court (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).

In April, Dane County Judge Richard Niess issued a temporary injunction barring the state from enforcing the law's requirement that a physician must be physically present when a woman takes medication abortion drugs and must conduct a private consultation to ensure she is seeking the procedure voluntarily.

Huyck said, "This is a significant step in the right direction recognizing that medical professionals should be trusted to determine the safest and best medical care for patients" (Wisconsin State Journal, 6/11).