Walker Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban

Proponents Say Bill Aims To Prevent Fetuses From Feeling Pain

Michael Vadon (CC-BY)

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law Monday that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Wisconsin. Doctors who perform the procedure after that would be committing a felony.

The new law, which makes no exceptions for pregnancies stemming from rape or incest, is one of the most stringent measures restricting abortions in the country. Advocates for the bill argue that it will ensure fetuses won’t feel pain during an abortion, which they assert is possible after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Walker pointed to that claim at the signing ceremony in Oshkosh:

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“We’re going to sign legislation that will protect unborn children particularly at the time they can feel pain.”

Members of the medical community disagree, saying there’s no evidence fetuses can feel pain before the 27th week of pregnancy.

Nicole Safar, with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which opposed the measure, said it’s dangerous when political ideology interferes with the relationship between a doctor and patient.

“Legislators and Gov. Walker are not physicians. They do not have the experience and knowledge of taking care of pregnant women, and they’re, they’re making a political statement by banning some abortion,” she said Monday, following the signing.

Safar said the number of women in Wisconsin that will be impacted when the new law is is implemented is low, but it will make those who need the procedure travel during what she called a “vulnerable and dangerous time.” According to data from 2013, 1 percent of abortions in Wisconsin occurred after 20 weeks.

Opponents said that if a plaintiff is found, the new law could be challenged in court, but Walker said he is confident it will hold up.

“I think there’s broad-based support for saying that when an unborn child can actually feel pain we should be, as a society, seeking to protect that child,” Walker said.

There is a provision in the bill that would allow for abortions in emergency situations, although what exactly constitutes an “emergency” is murky.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include statements from Gov. Scott Walker and Nicole Safar. Shamane Mills contributed reporting.