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Wisconsin judge reaffirms July ruling that state law permits consensual abortions

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FILE - Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks at Gundersen in La Crosse. back in in March of 2020.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Tuesday reaffirmed her ruling from earlier this year that state law permits consensual medical abortions, handing abortion rights advocates a massive victory but opening up appellate options for conservatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion, in June 2022 reactivated an 1849 Wisconsin law that conservatives interpreted as banning abortion. Abortion providers ceased operations in the state out of fear of violating the ban.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit days after the U.S. Supreme Court decision challenging the ban’s validity. He argued the statutes were too old to enforce and a 1985 law permitting abortions before fetuses can survive outside the womb trump the ban. Three doctors later joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, saying they fear being prosecuted for performing abortions.

Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled this past July that the ban prohibits someone from attacking a woman in an attempt to kill her unborn child but doesn’t apply to consensual medical abortions. Her finding didn’t formally end the lawsuit but Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin was confident enough in the ruling to resume abortion procedures at their Madison and Milwaukee clinics in September.

Joel Urmanski, the Republican district attorney in Sheboygan County, where Planned Parenthood’s third abortion clinic is located, had asked Schlipper to reconsider her the ruling.

Schlipper refused in a 14-page opinion issued Tuesday, writing that Urmanski failed to show how she misapplied state law or made any other mistake and declared that the plaintiffs had won the suit.

She declined the doctors’ request, however, to issue an injunction prohibiting prosecutors from charging abortion providers. Prosecutors in Dane, Milwaukee and Sheboygan County have said they would abide by her ruling that state law permits consensual abortions, she noted.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said in a statement Tuesday that it expects to resume abortion procedures at its facility in Sheboygan “as soon as possible.”

Urmanski’s attorney, listed in online court records as Andrew Phillips, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Kaul called the ruling a “momentous victory.”

“Freedom wins. Equality wins. Women’s health wins,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit is likely far from over. Tuesday’s ruling opens the door for conservatives to appeal and a case of this magnitude will likely end up before the state Supreme Court. Liberal justices currently control the court, making it likely that Schlipper’s ruling will stand.

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