by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
September 23, 2023
Wisconsin Republicans and anti-abortion groups pushed for legislation that would change the state’s 1849 law and a slate of other abortion-related bills at a Senate hearing Tuesday.
The Senate Licensing, Constitution and Federalism committee heard testimony on the bills just a day after Planned Parenthood restarted abortion services in Wisconsin. The organization announced the decision last week, saying it was based on a July ruling by Dane County Judge Diane Schlipper that Wisconsin’s 1849 law, which has been widely interpreted as a criminal abortion ban, does not apply to abortions.
Committee chair Andre Jacque referenced Planned Parenthood’s decision Tuesday, saying that SB 300, a bill he co-authored, “is especially timely in light of last week’s announcement by Planned Parenthood that they would resume performing abortions in Wisconsin, again, beginning yesterday.”
The bill would prohibit anyone employed by the state, a state agency or a local governmental unit from providing abortion services, promoting or encouraging abortion services, making abortion referrals, or training others or receiving training in performing abortions while acting within the scope of his or her employment.
“This legislation will ensure taxpayer dollars are not utilized to subsidize abortions, either through the use of public employees or public facilities,” Jacque said.
Wisconsin state law already doesn’t allow state money to subsidize abortion services, however, this bill would take that a step further by barring public employees from being able to speak about or perform abortion services while on the job.
Jacque said the bill is complementary to the “Embrace Them Both” package, which includes the other four bills heard by committee.
Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), who uses her social media and legislative platform to share information about accessing abortions as well as other reproductive care resources, told the Wisconsin Examiner that the bill is “blatantly unconstitutional and anti-American.”
“[It’s] just a complete gag rule that would prohibit me from using my website or my Twitter account to provide basic information about where people can obtain abortion,” Roys said. “The goal is to silence and intimidate people, so that we’re afraid to talk to each other and afraid to share information about abortion. That climate of fear is the only way that antichoicers can achieve power because they do not have the trust and support of the majority society.”
Roys said all the bills being heard by the entirely male committee, which includes Jacque, prove that “Republicans are doubling down on our abortion ban.”
“They don’t care that the vast majority of Wisconsinites want to see abortion be safe and legal, and instead, they continue to push this deeply unpopular, harmful agenda,” Roys said.
Bills would redefine abortion and dedicate money to pregnancy resource centers and adoption
“Taken together, the bills demonstrate a clear commitment to families throughout the state and begin to build back the culture of life that I believe is slowly eroding from our state’s cultural discourse,” said bill co-author Sen. Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) of the “Embrace Them Both” package.
The first bill, SB 343, would serve as a way of updating the state’s 1849 law to redefine abortion. It would amend the current law to say that abortions do not include a physician’s performance of a medical treatment intended to prevent the death of a pregnant woman and not designed or intended to kill the unborn child. The draft legislation also specifically names the removal of a miscarriage and an ectopic, an embryonic or molar pregnancy as exceptions.
The Senate co-author of the bill Quinn did not say much about the bill on Tuesday, but the anti-abortion groups Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action support it.
“Pro-life Wisconsin is proud to advocate for these bills that together maintain and strengthen our current law — abortion ban statute — and provide the necessary resources for both moms and babies to survive and thrive in a post-Roe Wisconsin,” Matt Sande of Pro-Life Wisconsin said at the hearing. He said SB 343 “clarifies that medical procedures intended to save the life of the pregnant mother and not intended to kill her preborn baby are not abortions.”
Republican lawmakers have said that the Legislature should update the state’s 1849 law, yet they’ve remained divided on what the change to the law should be. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced a bill early this year that would have included a rape and incest exception, but that bill hasn’t advanced.
Democrats introduced their own bill that would have repealed Wisconsin’s 1849 ban completely. The debate comes as many are waiting for Attorney General Josh Kaul’s case, which asks the court to declare the 1849 law unenforceable, to provide clarity. The case is expected to make its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the near future.
SB 344 would allow taxpayers to claim fetuses with a heartbeat for a tax exemption and increase the amount that taxpayers can claim for every dependent from $700 to $1,000. Quinn said that expenses for having a child start early and that the bill would “recognize that those children in the womb are expensive.”
Roys told the Wisconsin Examiner that the bill works as a way of establishing “fetal personhood,” which would redefine unborn fetuses as a person. The idea has been supported by anti-abortion groups that think fetuses should receive certain legal protections.
Quinn rejected the idea during the hearing.
“We are probably going to hear that you know… extending the tax credit is some runaround way to justify they are kids. I mean, again, even if you don’t believe a child in the womb is a child, if you are supporting families, which we hear on our floor all the time, support families, support the middle class, support the middle class, support the lower class, this does that,” Quinn said.
Roys, however, rejected the assertion that the Republicans’ proposals are meant to provide real support to families, saying it would be more effective to support other policies including paid family leave and funding for the Child Care Counts program that Democrats have been advocating.
“In Wisconsin, you don’t get one hour of paid family leave guaranteed. They had an opportunity to do that, and they refused to even engage on it,” Roys said. “We have a child care crisis in our state, over half the state is a child care desert, and rather than engage as to how much money we should do to continue the Child Care Counts program, that is the only thing keeping our childcare infrastructure afloat, they decided $0 was the appropriate amount. I really don’t want to hear one word from them about how they care about children, because they have proven time and again, by their votes, that they don’t.
SB 345 would provide $1,000,000 in each fiscal year to Choose Life Wisconsin, a program that provides grants to pregnancy resource centers. Many pregnancy resource centers have a documented history of pressuring women not to have abortions and providing medically inaccurate information to women. Proponents say that they provide an essential service.
Choose Life Wisconsin was created in 2017 to act as a repository for $25 donations that come from sales of an anti-abortion state license plate. Anti-abortion groups, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin cover the administrative costs of the program, so that all the money from the license plates go to the centers, according to Pro-Life Wisconsin’s Sande.
The program, under the bill, could provide grants of up to $50,000 to individual centers.
There are currently more than 70 pregnancy resource centers, according to Choose Life Wisconsin.
Krys Crawley, founder and executive director of Life’s Connection, a pregnancy resource center in Waukesha, acknowledged that they do not refer women for abortion services during the hearing.
“As you know, we don’t offer abortion or refer to abortion,” Crawley said. “We educate about the potential emotional and physical risks associated with abortion, and we listen to them. We listen to our clients and their moments of uncertainty.”
Crawley told the committee about support centers like hers provide to women including ultrasounds and donated diapers. She said grants issued by Choose Life Wisconsin have been important in helping support the center’s work, and that increased grants of up to $50,000 would allow them to provide additional robust support to Wisconsin familes.
Roys, however, said the bill would “take away funding from health care providers that actually provide health care, and instead give it to anti-choice disinformation centers, these crisis pregnancy centers that fill the void when there’s not medically accurate, honest information out there.”
SB 346 would dedicate $5 million to establish a program that would award a grant to one organization that could help provide financial assistance to families interested in adoption.
“Adoption can be a financial burden,” Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfeld) said. “We have a lot of children that need a loving home and this bill would help families to bring children into their family unit.”
The bills would likely face a veto from Gov. Tony Evers if they pass the Legislature.
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