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GOP bill would restrict abortions after 14 weeks

Before going into effect, Wisconsin voters would have to support the idea via referendum

A blue sign that says "abortion is a woman's right" is held by a student.
Students hold signs outside their high school in support of abortion access Thursday, May 12, 2022, at Stevens Point Area Senior High in Stevens Point, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Abortions in Wisconsin would be banned after 14 weeks under a bill introduced by Republican state lawmakers Friday.

The legislation would not go into effect without the support of voters via an April referendum. It would also require support from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has promised a veto.

Current law bars abortions after 20 weeks. Under the GOP bill, that window would shrink by six weeks unless the mother is at risk of dying or incurring irreversible injuries. 

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Republicans in Wisconsin and across the nation have been grappling with how to navigate the abortion issue ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which provided federal abortion protections.

The June 2022 decision from the nation’s highest court pushed abortion regulations back to the states. In Wisconsin, abortions essentially ceased until late 2023 when a Dane County judge ruled a state law enacted in 1849 bans feticide and not consensual abortions. 

Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski is planning to appeal that ruling to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 liberal majority. According to online court records, that appeal has not yet been filed.

Still, state law bans abortions 20 weeks “postfertilization,” or 22 weeks after the last menstrual period. The Republican bill, introduced Friday, would bar abortion procedures 14 weeks “postfertilization.” 

Before the legislation would go into effect, voters would have to support the measure in a statewide referendum, which would be scheduled in April. Gov. Evers said in December that he would veto the bill and any other “that makes reproductive healthcare any less accessible for Wisconsinites than it is right now.” 

In a statement, state Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, the lead sponsor of the plan, said Wisconsin’s current law banning abortions after 20 weeks “is an outlier.”

“Empowering the people of Wisconsin to affect abortion law directly in a referendum can save many lives by moving the gestational age from 20 to 14 weeks,” said Nedweski.

In a post to the social media site formerly known as Twitter, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin criticized Republicans for pushing to shorten the legal window for abortions in the state.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Communications Director Analiese Eicher said voters have already weighed in on the issue in recent statewide elections.

“And they have voted for candidates who share their values on abortion care. So this issue has been on the ballot and Wisconsinites have voted their values,” Eicher said.

Gracie Skogman, director of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life, said her organization understands some lawmakers believe the 14 week ban “would be a good way to put the issue of abortion and abortion restrictions to rest in the state.” But Skogman said her group would rather see the Legislature address other issues first.

“More broadly, we are in support of legislation that would, for example, expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum women, adoption tax credits and funding for pregnancy resource centers,” Skogman said. “That’s what we really think any pro-life focus should be.”

Republicans scheduled the bill for a hearing Monday afternoon, the same day Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to visit Wisconsin as part of her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour. Monday is the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.