MADISON, Wis. - The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly gave final approval Wednesday, Oct. 27 to a package of abortion bills, many of which Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed two years ago and is all but certain to reject again.
Republicans do not have enough votes in the Legislature to override an Evers veto. Republicans said they were trying again because the measures are a priority and there's a chance Evers will change his mind.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended bringing the bills up for a vote, saying "our caucus is proud to be pro life. These bills should be bipartisan."
One bill, which Evers vetoed in 2019, would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to give medical care in the extremely rare circumstance in which a baby is born alive following an abortion attempt. Violators would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
In 2019, Evers said upon vetoing the bill: "I object to the political interference between patients and their health care providers. Further, this bill is redundant because the protections this bill seeks to provide already exist in state law."
Gov. Tony Evers
The Legislative Reference Bureau states that current Wisconsin law dictates: "Whoever is born alive as a result of an abortion is considered to have the same legal status and legal rights as a human being at any point after the human being undergoes a live birth as the result of natural or induced labor or a cesarean section."
The bill also would make intentionally causing the death of a child born alive as a result of an abortion a felony punishable by life in prison.
"Infanticide is already illegal. This bill doesn’t do anything in that regard. This bill is about yet one more jab at abortion," said State Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison).
Opponents say babies are almost never born alive during failed abortion attempts and in the rare instances in which they are, doctors are already ethically and legally bound to try and keep them alive.
"If this child is born, we are going to provide health care to them.," said State Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers).
The bill’s supporters say the measure would remove any gray areas in the law.
"There is nothing in law that clarifies that an abortion provider when, minutes before they are attempting to take the life of that baby, don’t have this explicit duty. This is something we’re seeking to clarify," said State Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), who is sponsoring the bill.
A second bill would require doctors provide parents of those testing positive for a congenital condition information about the condition. A third proposal would prohibit abortions based on sex, race or fetal disability. Evers vetoed that measure in 2019.
Another measure would reduce funding for abortion providers by prohibiting the state from certifying them as a provider under Medicaid. There would be exceptions in cases of sexual assault or incest or if the woman’s life is in danger.
A fifth bill would require doctors to tell any woman seeking a medication-induced abortion that she could still change her mind after ingesting the first dose and could still continue the pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists questions that claim and criticized bills like this one as not based in science. The American Medical Association says it would force speech upon doctors. Evers vetoed such a bill two years ago.
The Abortion Pill Rescue Network says there have been successful reversals with quick treatment after taking the first pill.
Democrats, who all voted against the bills, accused Republicans of only taking up the bills to energize conservatives ahead of the 2022 midterm election.
"This is a political game being played by Republicans to gin up their base," Subeck said prior to debate. "This is nothing but theater. They know that these bills will not become law."
Evers is up for reelection next year, as is everyone in the Assembly and half of the state Senate. Evers did not immediately return a message asking if he would veto the measures.
Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison
The Assembly votes were nearly party-line, with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposition to the bill requiring medical professionals treat a child surviving abortion.
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) voted against it, citing the fact it would not apply to mothers, but only health professionals. "Today I voted against AB6, which represents a step backward from current lawful protection of children born during an abortion. The exemption for the mother to be able to kill her child was not something I could consider a pro-life bill.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said bills show Republicans care more about the 2022 elections than they do women's health.
"Republicans know these extreme bills won’t become law and they know the majority of Wisconsinites support access to safe and legal abortion," Hintz said.
Abortion rights supporters are concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that essentially legalized abortion nationwide before viability.
A Wisconsin law enacted in 1849 made abortion illegal, but it has been unenforceable since the Roe v. Wade decision. That ban would take effect again if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The U.S. Supreme Court this year is weighing in two abortion limits – laws from Mississippi and Texas.