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Anti-abortion groups urge DAs in Milwaukee, Dane counties to prosecute abortion providers

Advocates accuse Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin of flouting state law

A woman stands in front of microphones at a podium.
Heather Weininger, executive director of Right to Life of Wisconsin, speaks to reporters Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Advocates are urging district attorneys in two liberal counties to prosecute the people who provide abortions.

A coalition of anti-abortion groups made the plea during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, eight days after Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin restarted abortion services in the state.

Nearly 15 months ago, providers across Wisconsin stopped performing elective abortions once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. They were concerned about being prosecuted under a 19th century law which says that “any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child” is guilty of a felony. That law includes exceptions for “therapeutic abortions” done to save a pregnant person’s life.

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But starting last week, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is once again offering abortions at one clinic in Madison and another in Milwaukee.

The group is citing a July ruling, in which Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper declined to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to block prosecutions of abortions under the pre-Civil War law.

In that order, Schlipper pointed to a 1994 state Supreme Court decision and said the 19th century law actually bans feticide rather than consensual abortions.

Planned Parenthood’s Madison and Milwaukee clinics are both in counties where Democratic DAs — Ismael Ozanne in Dane County and John Chisholm in Milwaukee County — have previously pledged not to prosecute abortion providers. But on Tuesday, Heather Weininger, executive director of Right to Life of Wisconsin, accused the elected DAs of flouting the law.

A man speaks at a press conference.
Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, answers questions during a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

“Now is not the time to be selective in which laws we enforce and which laws we don’t enforce in Wisconsin,” Weininger said. “Violence begins in the womb and can end today.”

The lawsuit over abortions under Wisconsin’s 19th century law is still ongoing in Dane County Circuit Court, and Pro-Life Wisconsin State Director Dan Miller noted Schlipper has not issued an injunction to bar prosecutions of abortions.

“Abortion is not legal in Wisconsin, but Planned Parenthood has decided to break the law, and now they are getting away with it,” Miller said. “How could this be? Where is the rule of law?”

READ MORE: How We Got Here: Abortion in Wisconsin since 1849

Wisconsin’s law makes clear that the women who get abortions are not the ones who can or should be prosecuted, said Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin.

“We would be looking at those who are performing the abortions at Planned Parenthood, and any of those who are, you know, aiding and abetting them, whatever medical staff is there,” Sande said. “Planned Parenthood is perpetrating this crime, this violation of the law, and they are to be held accountable — not the mother seeking the abortion.”

Chisholm, Milwaukee County’s top prosecutor since 2007, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment. Ozanne, Dane County’s DA since 2010, told Wisconsin Public Radio Tuesday his position has not changed.

Prior to the overturning of Roe, elective abortions were available in three Wisconsin counties — Milwaukee, Dane and Sheboygan.

In Sheboygan County, Republican DA Joel Urmanski has said previously he would enforce a statewide ban. Officials with Planned Parenthood Wisconsin said earlier this month they’re working to resume abortions at the Sheboygan clinic, which previously offered medication abortions.

“It really is truly a staffing and logistics question at this time,” Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s Associate Medical Director Dr. Allie Linton said Sept. 14. “We know that it’s important to not only have access but also have reliable access.”

Planned Parenthood officials also said they’re operating under restrictions that were in effect under Roe. That includes a 24-hour waiting period, a mandatory ultrasound law and a ban on abortions at least 20 weeks after conception.

Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed the lawsuit over Wisconsin’s abortion ban just days after the fall of Roe. The case is likely to eventually make its way to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, where liberals have held a 4-3 majority since Aug. 1.