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GOP Lawmakers Push Personhood Amendment

Proposed Amendment Would Establish Personhood, From A Fertilized Egg To A Fetus 

State Capitol
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

A measure that would allow Wisconsin to more easily ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned received a public hearing at the state Capitol Thursday before the Assembly Health Committee.

The proposed constitutional amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, would establish personhood at any stage of development, from a fertilized egg to a fetus. It would grant human embryos the same civil rights as people under the state constitution. If approved, the amendment would leave it up to the state Legislature to specify what protections could be afforded to the unborn.

Five other states have introduced legislation to establish fetal personhood, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Lawmakers in Wisconsin said a recent state supreme court ruling in Kansas, upholding abortion rights in state law, urged them to propose the amendment to Wisconsin’s Constitution.

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“Our state constitution has been changed many times,” testified Brandtjen. “This is a small change. We’re only striking one word” to protect the unborn.

This is not the first time Wisconsin lawmakers have tried to establish a “right to life” under the state constitution and define a fetus as a person. Jacque introduced a similar measure in 2011, but the proposed constitutional amendment was not voted on during two consecutive legislative sessions — a requirement before any amendment is put on the ballot for voters to decide.

The personhood amendment has divided abortion opponents. Wisconsin Right to Life is against the measure, which is likely to draw legal challenges. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the full Assembly will not take up the measure which is being pushed by Pro-Life Wisconsin, but faces opposition from a number of groups supporting abortion rights.

“AJR 130 is part of a larger anti-abortion political game. The message Republicans are sending women by bringing this bill forth in Wisconsin is chilling,” Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health said in a written statement.

“Women in Wisconsin should be trusted to make the best health care decisions for themselves about their own bodies,” she continued. “To give full legal protection to a zygote at the risk of denying women autonomy over their bodies and their lives is wrong on so many levels.”

The introduction of the personhood amendment by anti-abortion groups at the state level occurs as congressional democrats who control the U.S. House try to protect a woman’s right to abortion under Roe v. Wade. On Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on a bill known as the Women’s Health Protection Act.

The congressional hearing centered on legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-CA, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-CT, along with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Lawmakers say the federal bill would guarantee a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion — and the right of an abortion provider to deliver abortion services — free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship.