A closer look at Wisconsin’s abortion law

The law provides an exception for the life of the mother if 3 doctors agree
Published: Jun. 24, 2022 at 4:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2022 at 5:47 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - The U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling on abortion Friday means Wisconsin will revert to its last abortion law.

More than 170 years ago, Wisconsin enacted a law prohibiting abortions at any gestational age. Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, Wisconsin is once again governed by that law.

The first line of the statute created in 1849 reads, “Any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a class H felony.” That carries up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

Under the statute, victims of rape and incest no longer have the option to terminate a pregnancy. The only exception is if the mother’s life is at risk.

It will be up to a doctor to determine if an abortion is medically necessary to save a woman’s life.

”That exception is not specific. It does not tell me as a physician or my colleagues as physicians how long one would need to wait, how at risk one’s life must be for us to invoke that exception,” Dr. Amy Domeyer-Klenske of the Wisconsin section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said.

Then, if a doctor does see a need to perform an abortion, they will need at least two other doctors to agree or sign off on the procedure. It’s a gray area leading to some concern among physicians.

”I suspect the area that is going to be scary for physicians is going to be in the situation of the maternal health exemption because the law is not clear or specific in what that means and we don’t have precedent to know when someone might be prosecuted or to what extent we are able to invoke that exception,” Domeyer-Klenske said.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has said in the past that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, he would not enforce the ban.

”We follow the law at the Department of Justice, but we use our discretion in how we enforce the laws and how we will use our discretion to enforce the most serious crimes in Wisconsin, crimes like sexual assault and homicide and internet crimes against children. We’re not going to divert resources to investigating or prosecuting people under a law that had been understood to be unconstitutional for decades,” said Kaul.

The attorney general said he hopes county prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs follow suit, but he said it’s ultimately up to them on how to use their resources.

Kaul put out a statement Friday saying his office is reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision and will be providing more information within the next week on how it will proceed.

”The laws are inconsistent. They are massively outdated and backwards. These are laws that were passed in the 18th century (sic) that we’re now, after 50 years of them not being in effect, we’re going to try to apply potentially to 21st century medicine and it just doesn’t work, so we need to get clarity on what the laws are,” Kaul said.

Doctors want clarification about the law's single exception

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