Respect Women Act

The legislation has virtually no chance of passing the Republican-led Legislature, but Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, will continue to introduce it "session after session until it becomes law."

PHOTO BY JESSIE OPOIEN

A set of three bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers would undo a series of anti-abortion measures signed into law in Wisconsin over the last two decades and in particular over the last six years. 

The legislation has virtually no chance of passing the Republican-led Legislature, but Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, will continue to introduce it "session after session until it becomes law."

The proposals would repeal any restrictions on abortion access that are "not grounded in medical science or widely accepted as medical best practices," assert that patients have a right to receive medically accurate information and provide training for law enforcement agencies to prevent harassment and violence directed toward patients and providers at reproductive health clinics.

"We want to make sure restrictions to reproductive health care are grounded in medicine, not in politics," Taylor said at a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol.

The package of bills "shows what reproductive health care should look like," Taylor said.

The legislation is guided in part by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstadt, said Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health executive director Sara Finger. The court ruled last year that a Texas law placed an "undue burden" on a woman's right to end a pregnancy. Following that ruling, the court rejected appeals from Wisconsin and Mississippi over laws that would require that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital near their clinic.

Finger and other supporters of the Erpenbach-Taylor bills say the standard set by Whole Woman's Health should lead to the repeal of a handful of other Wisconsin laws.

Wisconsin women seeking abortions have been required to participate in a counseling appointment followed by a 24-hour waiting period since 1996, under a law signed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

In 2012, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a law preemptively banning telemedicine abortions and implementing additional measures designed to ensure women seeking abortions are not coerced. The law requires the pills for a medication abortion to be given to a woman by the same doctor she sees for her state-mandated counseling appointment.

The following year, Walker signed legislation requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. The woman is read a script describing what is on the screen and is given the option of viewing it. The same law also included the admitting privileges requirement blocked by the Supreme Court.

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Under a 2015 law, Wisconsin became one of 16 states to ban abortion 20 weeks after fertilization, based on the grounds that a fetus is able to experience pain at that stage of gestation. The science behind that argument is complicated, although the majority of scientists who have weighed in on the issue argue the capability to feel pain doesn’t set in until the third trimester.

Dr. Amanda Schmehil, an ob-gyn in Madison, said her ability to care for her patients has been "severely undermined by the Wisconsin Legislature."

"When a woman comes to my office she should be able to trust that I’m giving her unbiased opinions," Schmehil said.

Erpenbach said he has voted against legislation for years that impedes a woman's ability to "do what's best for her."

"As a man, I don’t have to worry about this because I've never seen a piece of legislation that comes between my doctor and me," he said.

The legislation is supported by a variety of groups including Planned Parenthood, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Physicians Alliance. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.