Abortion issue takes higher profile as court fight looms

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BELOIT - With the Wisconsin Assembly passing the born-alive abortion survivors bill and Alabama lawmakers approving a bill banning nearly all abortions, area legislators weighed in about their stance on the Wisconsin bill and what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto the born-alive bill, which passed in the Assembly Wednesday - one of four anti-abortion bills up for consideration in the Republican-controlled Assembly. The Wisconsin bill would require healthcare providers present during a failed abortion to treat a surviving baby just as they would any other newborn, to keep it alive.

State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he co-sponsored the bill and three other pro-life bills including the sex-selective and genetic disorder abortion ban; the woman's right to know act, requiring physicians to disclose all possible options for pregnancy; and a bill to prevent taxpayer subsidy of abortion providers by denying Medicaid certification to those providing abortion.

"I co-sponsored and will vote in favor of all four bills in the Republican package to protect babies, both the unborn and born, from abortions. These bills are medically, morally and legally justified as we witness a national push from Democrats to increase the number of abortions, the act of ending a child's life," Nass said.

Several states have taken up bills making abortion more difficult, with a stated purpose of bringing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court to create an opportunity for justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion advocates have expressed a belief that the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the court creates a 5-4 majority that could favor overturning Roe.

If that happened, the most likely outcome would be kicking the issue back to states to decide if abortion would be legal or illegal within those boundaries.

Wisconsin has a law on the books that bans abortions and would take effect if Roe v. Wade would be overturned. According to Statute 940.04, any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony. It doesn't apply to a "therapeutic" abortion performed by a physician or if it's deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.

Representative Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said bills to repeal Statute 940.04 have been circulated since the 1970s. For the past two sessions, he's signed on to bills that would repeal it, such as 2017 Assembly Bill 86. He said he anticipates a similar bill will be introduced this session, and he will sign on again to preserve safe and legal access to abortion.

Since Roe v. Wade was decided, Spreitzer said there have been other laws passed that would criminalize specific types of abortion or put requirements on women seeking an abortion.

"Some of those laws were found to be unconstitutional and some were not, and while it is clear that the legislature would need to take a comprehensive approach to clarifying our laws should Roe be overturned, my first priority would be to address the fundamental need for women to access safe and legal abortions. That starts with overturning Wisconsin Statute 940.04," Spreitzer said.

Representative Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, did not return a call for comment.

State Sen. Janis Ringhand, R-Evansville, said she's been told the anti-abortion bill will be on the Senate's June agenda.

Ringhand said she is opposed to the bill as it would have negative repercussions for women's health issues. She said most abortions, especially those which are late-term, are because there is an anomaly with the fetus or the fetus is threatening the life of the mother.

"Personally, I think the legislature is putting its nose in where it doesn't belong. I really think the legislature should back away from it," Ringhand said.

If the Wisconsin, Alabama and other proposed anti-abortion bills lead to legal fights and Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ringhand said it could be very concerning for women as the abortion laws in Wisconsin are "ancient" and predate Roe v. Wade. She said legislators would have to craft laws that are realistic, and take into account there are certain cases such as rape, incest, health of the mother and anomalies with the fetus that make abortion necessary in some cases.

"It's a woman's choice, and they have to allow some of these exceptions," she said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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