Madison, Dane Co. authorities will not arrest abortion providers, DA won’t prosecute post-Roe reversal

Sheriff says department doesn't have the time or resources to investigate 'medical procedures', will focus on violent crime

MADISON, Wis. — Madison police and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office will not be arresting or investigating those providing abortions and the Dane County district attorney says he will not prosecute those cases following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and reverted Wisconsin back to a centuries-old state law that criminalizes the practice.

The 173-year-old law makes providing an abortion a felony, making no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The penalty for performing abortions outlined in the law is up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but increases to 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine if the fetus is past sixteen weeks of development.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul reiterated Friday that he would not use state resources to help enforce the law. Local district attorneys would be able to prosecute providers under the law, but he discouraged them from doing so.

In an interview with News 3 Now, Kaul said he does not have direct authority to block the decision from impacting Wisconsin women and abortion providers but that he could file lawsuits seeking to have the state’s abortion ban blocked by Wisconsin courts.

Kaul added that litigation in the wake of the decision is likely — definitions like when the life of the mother is in danger need to be updated, he said.

“I don’t think anybody really is prepared for this,” Kaul said. “If the 19th-century law goes into effect, we’re talking about trying to apply a law written in the 19th century to 21st-century medicine.”

Though Kaul cannot take unilateral action, Gov. Tony Evers indicated he would use his pardon powers to prevent those convicted under the state’s abortion ban from serving time.

This could change after November, however. Kaul indicated a conservative attorney general could use state resources to go after abortion providers, and Evers’ pardon power could be moot if he loses reelection.

For Madison though, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the city will not prosecute abortion providers. The city’s common council passed a resolution last week supporting the Madison Police Department in refusing to arrest people in violation of that law.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne indicated Friday he would not prosecute abortion cases, saying he will only prosecute cases that affect community safety.

“There are plenty of archaic laws on the books that represent the values of days past. I have every intention of utilizing the power Dane County voters entrusted in me and will use my discretion to prosecute only those crimes that keep our community safe and represent our collective values,” Ozanne said. “If the voters want a district attorney who prosecutes women for seeking an abortion or licensed providers who are acting in the best interest of their patients, they will need to elect someone else.”

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett acknowledged the issue involves highly-charged emotions on both sides but said his department does not have the resources to investigate or arrest those who provide abortions.

“I do have to prioritize my limited resources to focus on crimes that most directly affect the people I serve,” Sheriff Barrett said. “These crimes include gun violence, homicides, sexual assaults, vehicle thefts, human trafficking, impaired driving, and domestic violence to name a few. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office does not have the resources nor expertise to investigate medical professionals conducting medical procedures in medical facilities.”

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes echoed that sentiment, saying his department has other priorities.

“We are officers, not medical providers. We are not able to predict or know what type of service someone is receiving or providing when visiting a clinic. Nor would we ever arrest someone on this type of assumption,” Barnes said. “Reducing gun violence, preventing car thefts and reducing traffic accidents have and will continue to be a top priority for our department. Like our partners at the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, our resources will remain focused on making Madison and Dane County the safest place to live.”

While the mayor, police chief, sheriff and district attorney all say abortions will not be prosecuted, it is unlikely abortions will still be performed by most providers. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin stopped providing abortions as soon as the ruling came down Friday, saying they had to tell people in the waiting room they could no longer help them.

The mayor called the Supreme Court decision an “attack on the rights of Americans.”

“This decision is not in alignment with what most Americans believe—that pregnant people should have the right to make decisions about their own health. This decision does nothing to protect even the most vulnerable in society—children and minors, people who can’t afford to travel out of state, people who are sexually assaulted—as well as anyone who simply finds themselves pregnant when they do not want to be. It is sickening to think about the harm and trauma this will cause in our country,” Rhodes-Conway said in a statement after the ruling was announced.

Saying the Supreme Court and the State of Wisconsin have failed, Rhodes-Conway said the city stands opposed to the ruling and Wisconsin’s abortion law.

“More than ever, I am grateful to live in a city that values and cares about other people. And I am grateful to be a part of its leadership, to uphold our values of fairness, justice and equity,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I urge all of you to join me in advocating with your state and federal elected officials, voting to elect people who will protect our rights, and speaking up for justice. Together, we will show our state and our country what Madison stands for.”

WATCH: Madison will not arrest abortion providers following overturn of Roe v. Wade, mayor says

Public Health officials in Madison and Dane County say they are also “devastated” by the Supreme Court ruling.

“We believe that access to a full range of equitable and evidence-based reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion, is necessary for healthy and thriving people, families, and communities. This change in federal law will cause far-reaching harm to Dane County residents. People disproportionately impacted by health disparities will be especially harmed,” Public Health Madison and Dane County said in a blog post on Friday. “We are working with partners throughout Madison and Dane County to ensure that emerging community needs are addressed in light of this decision. We hope for a future where everyone’s reproductive rights will be protected and honored.”