Democrats Unveil Bill To Restore Reproductive Care Access, Abortion Rights

With GOP In Control, Measure Has Little Chance Of Approval

Parth Shah/WPR

Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill that aims to make abortions and other reproductive health care more accessible in Wisconsin, a state where 96 percent of counties don’t have an abortion clinic.

Standing in front of a group of a dozen women’s rights advocates and medical professionals, Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Chris Taylor introduced what they’re calling the “Patients Reproductive Health Act” at a news conference Thursday morning. They said their legislation would end requirements for doctors to provide state-sanctioned information to patients seeking an abortion, allow doctors who perform abortions to do so at maternal health care facilities, and protect providers and patients from harassment.

Taylor said that the bill would respect the right of health care providers to say they won’t provide reproductive health care.

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“It also recognizes and protects the conscience rights of the providers who believe they have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to provide comprehensive health care,” she said.

Regarding Catholic hospitals, Taylor and Erpenbach stressed that if there isn’t a doctor in the facility willing to provide certain reproductive health care services, that hospital wouldn’t be required to do so.

Doug Laube, a gynecologist and former chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Wisconsin, called the bill “very important legislation,” and pointing to the anti-harassment provision in particular.

“I have experienced protesters around my home here in Madison who have decided that they would bring out ugly posters of fetal parts right at the time the school buses arrive,” he said.

Chelsea Shields with Wisconsin Right to Life said preventing protests would infringe on First Amendment rights. “The vast majority of the time that someone is outside of an abortion clinic, it’s a peaceful protest,” she said.

Taylor and Erpenbach said that the bill, which is still being written, has been vetted by First Amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure that it is constitutional. Provisions to prevent harassment would be an extension of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which prohibits threats or the use of physical force on a patient or provider of reproductive health services.

“Constitutionally, I think we feel like we’re on pretty solid ground,” said Erpenbach. “If we’re not and there’s better language to make the ground more solid, we’ll use it.”

Shields said regardless of the language, Wisconsin Right to Life expects the bill to fail.

“We see right through this. We know this is a distraction, especially as elections are on the forefront for folks like Sen. Erpenbach and Rep. Taylor. We’re just going to keep on moving forward and protecting the unborn,” said Shields.

The bill is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature.

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