Following several hours of often emotional and personal speeches on the Assembly floor Thursday, lawmakers approved a series of bill that critics argue will severely restrict the ability of Wisconsin women to seek an abortion. All of the measures passed on party line votes.
One of the most contentious pieces of legislation was a requirement that women seeking an abortion first have an ultrasound performed. Democrats criticized the bill as government intrusion into the health decisions of women. State Representative Terese Berceau (D-Madison) called it an insulting piece of legislation that further traumatizes women already facing a difficult decision. Drawing on the possibility that some women could be subject to trans-vaginal ultrasounds, Berceau accused Republicans of inserting government into the “most private part of a woman’s body.”
AUDIO: Rep. Terese Berceau (:16)
Republicans defended the bill, saying it ensures women have access to important information when faced with the decision of having an abortion. State Rep. Erik Severson (R-Star Prairie) said it will protect children who are not being given a choice on whether they will be allowed to live.
AUDIO: Rep. Erik Severson (:15)
Democrats countered that the bill pushes a mandate on women faced with the difficult decision of aborting a doomed pregnancy or one that was the result of rape. State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) argued the GOP is using the ultrasound mandate as a “political bludgeon.”
AUDIO: Rep. Chris Taylor (:27)
The bill does include an exemption for women who were the victim of rape or incest, although Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) pointed out that those cases are not always reported to police. She went on to share her personal story of being raped by a family member when she was eight-years-old and that the assault was never reported to police. Wright said only 19 percent of rapes are ever reported and she can’t imagine her own daughters being forced to choose between making a trauma publicly known or undergoing an invasive procedure.
AUDIO: Rep. Mandy Wright (:28)
The bill also requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic they work out of. Planned Parenthood has already said the provision will force the group to close its Appleton clinic, although state Representative Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) contends that there’s nothing stopping doctors at the clinic from applying for the ability to admit patients at nearby hospitals.
The bill passed in the state Senate earlier this week, following a contentious vote Wednesday morning. It now heads to Governor Scott Walker, who has indicated he will sign it into law.
The Assembly on Thursday also passed legislation that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to cover abortions under public employees’ health insurance plans and allow religious organizations to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. A third bill bans abortions based on selecting the sex of a child and allows family members to sue a doctor if they believe a sex selective abortion was performed. Both of those bills now head to the state Senate.