Anti-abortion bills clearing state Senate part of 10-year trend toward more state restrictions

MADISON, Wis. — A quartet of abortion-related Republican bills cleared the state Senate Wednesday on party lines, a package that will face a likely veto under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ pen.

The bills would limit how abortions can be paid for, as well as what kinds of information doctors give abortion patients getting medication-induced procedures:

  • Ban medical providers from using Medicaid to pay for abortions that were not the result of sexual assault or incest
  • Require doctors to tell patients getting medication-induced abortions that they can change their minds after the first dose (medical experts say this is dangerous misinformation and could risk some patients’ lives)
  • Ban abortions based on race, sex or national origin
  • Require doctors to tell expecting parents about congenital conditions

Medical experts have said telling patients that drug-induced abortions can be stopped once started is medically unsafe. Bill author Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) says the goal is to make sure women are given all the information needed.

“We are making sure that a woman has the most information she can, the best information she can, so that she makes the decision,” Kapenga said Wednesday.

Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) said the bills were a political stunt with no chance of becoming law.

“What can we do to get together and help fewer people be in this circumstance where they have to face the choice about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy?” she asked in floor debate Wednesday.

Over decades, number of abortions declined in Wisconsin

The number of abortions performed annually has consistently declined since the late 1980s, the earliest for which the state posts public data.

According to reports from the Department of Health Services, there were 6,511 abortions in Wisconsin in 2019 (about 98% of whom were state residents), compared to between 17,000 and 20,000 annually between 1978 and 1989.

Today, the vast majority of mothers choosing abortions are unmarried (87%). About 11% experienced complications, and 58% are happening before the pregnancy reaches eight weeks.

Jenny Higgins, the director of UW’s Collaborative for Reproductive Equity says, reproductive health clinics have closed over the past decade in Wisconsin as new state laws under Gov. Scott Walker limited abortion access in the state. According to research provided by UW’s CORE, five Planned Parenthood health clinics closed around Wisconsin after Gov. Walker signed a bill preventing them from getting state funds.

Today, Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin lists three places to obtain an abortion: Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan.

“We went from being considered a relatively okay state to access abortion to what is now considered a hostile state for abortion access,” Higgins said.

Landscape of state abortion laws today

Wisconsin is one of twenty-two states which have laws on the books that would immediately or quickly criminalize all or most abortions if the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision were reversed.

A closely-watched case is currently before the conservative-leaning high court over a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The case has the potential to overturn the landmark constitutional right to abortions before 24 weeks, established under Roe v. Wade.

An 1848-era Wisconsin law would make abortions immediately illegal in that event, with no exceptions.

“If Roe is overturned, while abortion access would be protected in some states such as in California, it would become criminal here in Wisconsin,” Higgins explained.

Other restrictions to abortion introduced over the last decade include mandated 24-hour waiting periods following state-regulated information to patients about abortions, as well as state-mandated counseling for patients and restrictions on medication-induced abortions.

While the bills passing the state senate would not go significantly further in limiting abortion access, pro-choice advocates say, they don’t reflect the medical community’s consensus.

“Patients in Wisconsin and everywhere need medically-accurate information, not state-mandated deception or misleading claims,” Higgins said.

“So in terms of just a basic perspective on providing the best care to patients as possibly and certainly doing no harm, patients need the most accurate information and that is not reflected in these bills.”