Wisconsin Women's Rights Are Being Chipped Away

The reproductive rights of women in Wisconsin have been at risk since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011 and both the state senate and assembly gained Republican majorities that year. In the state, abortion providers are struggling to stay open amid funding cuts, and women's right to choose is being slowly stripped away. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin senate passed a bill that would effectively ban abortion in Wisconsin after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and though it won't become law until the state assembly and the governor sign off on it, it's well on its way. Meanwhile, Wisconsin women's organizations are furious about state leaders' restrictions on women's access to healthcare and are continuously fighting the intrusive legislature.

As soon as Gov. Walker took office, the state cut funding for Planned Parenthood, forcing several clinics to shut down. After that, there was a law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to hospitals, which was struck down by a federal court and is currently being appealed. After that, there was a law requiring women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound before having the procedure.

Now, the state legislature is trying to pass a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother's life is in immediate danger, and Governor Walker has vowed to sign it into law. The bill's supporters claim a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, although the medical community at large disputes this "fact." The Wisconsin senate passed the bill Tuesday, but the state assembly hasn't said when it will vote on the ban.

Just a few weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled that Idaho's 20-week abortion ban was unconstitutional because it "categorically bans some abortions before viability," and doctors and women's organizations in Wisconsin hope the same will happen if their state's bill passes.

Here's what women's organizations across Wisconsin have to say about the 20-week abortion ban and how state leaders are handling women's healthcare.

On Governor Walker

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Sara Finger, executive director and founder of Wisconsin's Alliance For Women's Health: "I would say he’s being incredibly disrespectful of healthcare leaders in this state and the real Wisconsin women they serve. It’s incredibly frustrating and disheartening to see so many legislators, including our governor, dismiss the healthcare experts and standards of care used to treat Wisconsin women. ... We will no longer tolerate this incredible disrespect."

Nicole Safar, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin: "Governor Walker’s record on women’s access to reproductive health care is clear — one of his first actions as Governor in 2011 was to defund Planned Parenthood, which forced us to close five rural health centers that provided over 3,000 women with preventative care like birth control and STD screening and treatment."

Katherine Dellenbach, chair of the Wisconsin Women's Network: "I think Walker has done a disservice to women in this state, particularly in women’s health. We've seen a pattern over the years of women’s health being deteriorated. ... It's just been a consistent pattern of trying to remove that access that women should have to care."

On The 20-Week Abortion Ban

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Finger: "It’s just a horrible piece of policy. It’s likely to be found unconstitutional, so while our leaders should be focused on a very important state budget debate, they are fast tracking this kind of bad policy that is so widely opposed by the healthcare community in Wisconsin. It's so incredibly frustrating and appalling to Wisconsin voters."

Dr. Kathy Hartke, chair of the Wisconsin section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "This is going to restrict women from having a legal treatment that can save their life and potentially reduce pain in both them and their kids. What the legislators don’t understand is that a fetus at this gestation does not feel pain... We believe its unconstitutional, unethical, and just wrong.

"The patients that I take care of — that most of us take care of — want these pregnancies. These are not a failure to use birth control, they are very much desired pregnancies. We just hope that Wisconsin will speak up for their life and health."

Dayna Long, president of the Wisconsin National Organization for Women: "The fact of the matter is, this is a gross invasion of women’s privacy. It’s coming between a women and her physician, and that alone should disqualify it from any decision. It’s literally legislators who don’t know what they’re doing writing healthcare policy … so it’s really confusing why they felt the need to write this policy in the first place. We know that when politicians get involved in women’s healthcare, in particular when women have a medical emergency after 20-weeks, women end up dead."

On Required Ultrasounds


Safar: "The mandatory ultrasound law was passed in ten days in the summer of 2013. Similarly to the abortion ban we are fighting this year, Wisconsin Act 37 was rushed through in the middle of a terrible budget without sufficient opportunity for public discussion. Also similarly to the abortion ban, the medical community uniformly opposed Wisconsin Act 37 and its interference in the patient-physician relationship."

Finger: "It’s unacceptable to watch these legislators, with a super majority in our state, basically practice legislative malpractice. The idea that you would force women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, which is not acknowledged as best practice or medically necessary, is just another tactic for an agenda-driven group of legislators to dissuade women from having an abortion and shame women who do seek abortions."

Long: "Women are forced to have an ultrasound, based not on anyone’s medical opinion, but on a perverse obsession with being involved in women’s health."

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