MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Anti-abortion groups in Wisconsin say they’ll work with lawmakers next year to pass legislation that will update or replace the state’s 1849 abortion ban, which led doctors across Wisconsin to stop providing abortions on Friday after the Supreme Court struck down the landmark abortion rights decision in Roe v. Wade.
Some Democrats and abortion rights supporters have questioned the validity of a law that had been on the books for 173 years but wasn’t enforced due to the Roe decision.
Abortion opponents want lawmakers to completely ban surgical abortions and to block medication abortions, a technology that wasn’t around when the 1849 law was written.
Gov. Tony Evers called the state Legislature back for a special session last week. Republicans who control both the Assembly and Senate all but ignored trying to debate what an updated law would look like, gaveling in and out of those sessions in under 30 seconds. The state Legislature has been out of session since March and isn’t scheduled back until next year — a 10-month hiatus.
The 1849 ban includes an exception when the life of the mother is at stake. Anti-abortion groups want to remove that provision and replace it with a requirement that physicians attempt to save a fetus alongside the mother in such a situation.
“We know that direct abortion is never medically necessary. We believe in providing equal care for mom and baby,” said Matt Sande, legislative director for anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin.
Kristin Lyerly, a Planned Parenthood physician, challenged Sande’s statement. “Any obstetrician-gynecologist can tell you that there are situations where abortions are medically necessary,” she said.
Lyerly said that the idea of removing an exception for the life of the mother “emphasizes how little they understand about the way these things work in the real world.”
Republican state Rep. Donna Rozar, who worked with Right to Life Wisconsin last year to author a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, said it’s been difficult to plan abortion legislation in 2023 because so many legislative seats are up for election. She said she expects lawmakers to wait until after the election to begin talking about specific bills they will introduce to ban abortions, fund foster care and adoption initiatives and assist pregnancy resource centers.
“We need to talk a lot about what it means to preserve the life of the mother,” Rozar said.
Gracie Skogman, legislative and PAC director at Right to Life, said her group has also spoken with elected officials about the potential for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court to declare that the state constitution doesn’t secure the right to an abortion, similar to a decision made in Iowa last week.
“We believe that that mirrors so clearly what the Supreme Court gave us in Roe and are hoping for a similar declaration here in Wisconsin,” said Skogman.
Until the legislature reconvenes in 2023, both anti-abortion groups and abortion rights supporters are eagerly awaiting guidance from courts on the interpretation and enforceability of the 1849 ban.
“I would anticipate some kind of legal action coming from somewhere in the next couple weeks,” said Julaine Appling, president of anti-abortion lobbying group Wisconsin Family Action. Like Rozar, Appling is waiting to plan specific legislation until next session’s lawmakers are known.
Attorney General Josh Kaul has previously said he believes the 1849 statute is too old to enforce. His office promised an update this week about how it will respond to Friday’s ruling.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he will do whatever he can to oppose the 1849 ban, including supporting lawsuits to overturn it, not appointing district attorneys who would enforce it, and offering clemency for doctors convicted under it.
In one of the most hotly contested governor’s races across the country, Evers is making abortion rights a pillar of his campaign for reelection. With Republicans controlling both chambers of the Legislature, Evers has issued more vetoes in his first term than any governor in modern history.
Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Harm on Twitter.