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Wisconsin Republicans push bills they say would clarify state’s abortion ban

Wisconsin would ban abortions except in cases where doctors say a person's life is at risk

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Nurse Cassie Owen demonstrates an ultrasound machine
Nurse Cassie Owen demonstrates an ultrasound machine at the Portico Crisis Pregnancy Center on Jan. 26, 2022, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. States that have passed ever-restrictive abortion laws also have been funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into privately operated clinics that steer women away from abortions but provide little if any health care services. Mark Zaleski/AP Photo

A group of Republican lawmakers is introducing a package of bills that they say would clarify the state’s abortion ban.

But the state’s leading abortion advocacy group says the proposals are the latest effort by Republicans to restrict access to the procedure and make Wisconsin’s pre-Civil War abortion ban permanent.

Abortion has been a contentious issue nationally since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, but the debate has been especially pronounced in Wisconsin where the ruling reinstated a near total ban on abortion dating back to the 19th century. While the ban includes an exception to save the life of a pregnant person, doctors and hospitals have said the law is unclear, leaving them in limbo when it comes to providing reproductive care.

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One of the proposals introduced Tuesday by a group of Republican state lawmakers would add language to state law to clarify the abortion ban does not apply to people seeking procedures including a cesarian section, the removal of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg implants somewhere outside of the uterus and will not result in a birth.

“We’re keeping the ban in place. We’re not weakening it, we’re not watering it down. We’re not adding exceptions,” said Matt Sande, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group Pro Life Wisconsin, which supports the proposals. “We’re maintaining the ban and then clarifying it.”

But the measure drew sharp criticism from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which stopped providing abortions in the state after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“An overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites want to restore their ability to make their own health care decisions and repeal the criminal abortion ban,” said Tanya Atkinson, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “These bills are not a reflection of what the people of Wisconsin want and deserve.”

A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, although based on Evers’ previous remarks, he’d likely veto the plan should it reach his desk. Evers has said he wants to restore abortion rights that existed before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Those included allowing abortions up to the 20th week of a pregnancy as well as exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

Other proposals introduced Tuesday by Republicans include a measure that would require the state to grant $1 million to Choose Life Wisconsin, Inc., an anti-abortion group that runs what are commonly referred to as “pregnancy resource centers.” The group’s website says the centers offers counseling, free ultrasounds and adoption assistance to expectant mothers.

Another bill would expand a state income tax exemption for dependent children to “a dependent who is an unborn child” with a fetal heartbeat, which typically occurs after six weeks of a pregnancy.

“It reaffirms that life begins at conception,” Sande said of the tax exemption bill. “That there are obviously costs to grow your family. We want to incentivize that.”

A fourth proposal would require the state to administer a $5 million competitive grant program for groups that provide financial assistance to prospective adoptive families.

“I am proud to offer these bills that clarify support for both the mother and the child,” read a written statement from Sen. Romaine Quinn, R-Cameron, one of the co-sponsors of the plans.

Other GOP backers include Reps. Gae Magnafici, R-Dresser, Pat Snyder, R-Schofield and Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie.

Republicans have been occasionally at odds over how the state should proceed in the post-Roe era.

Earlier this year, a group of GOP lawmakers that included Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, introduced a bill that would add exceptions for victims of rape or incest to the state’s abortion ban, but Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said it would not pass in his chamber. Wisconsin’s anti-abortion groups have said they oppose such a move.

The disagreement among Republicans has come as Democrats have leaned heavily on the abortion issue in recent campaigns, including last year’s race for governor and this year’s state Supreme Court election.

A lawsuit seeking to repeal Wisconsin’s abortion ban is likely headed to the state Supreme Court, where liberals will hold a 4-3 majority starting in August.

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