Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Monday a ban on abortions 20 weeks after probable fertilization.
It was one of three pieces of legislation the governor signed in Oshkosh before a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board meeting.
Walker signaled his support for the bill in March, two months before it was introduced and one day after a conservative activist called his stance on abortion into question. In the months leading up to his 2014 re-election, Walker repeatedly declined to say whether he would sign such a ban, in many cases predicting such a bill would not reach his desk.
The law will ban abortions at the point when some believe a fetus is capable of experiencing pain: 20 weeks after fertilization. The science behind that argument is complicated, with the majority of scientists who have weighed in on the issue arguing that the capability to feel pain doesn't set in until later.
But Walker said on Monday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "At five months, that's the time when that unborn child can feel pain. When an unborn child can feel pain, we should be protecting that child."
Under the bill, doctors who perform or attempt to perform an abortion after 20 weeks would be charged with a felony and subject to three-and-a-half years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The father of the fetus could also take legal action against the physician.
In the case of a medical emergency, the bill requires a physician to terminate the pregnancy "in the manner that, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless the termination of the pregnancy in that manner poses a greater risk either of the death of the pregnant woman or of the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the woman than other available methods."
The bill’s opponents say, even with that clause, it prioritizes the life and health of a fetus over that of its mother and could compromise the care provided by physicians.
Kaylie Hanson, director of women's media for the Democratic National Committee, said the legislation is "nothing more than a timely favor that will rally the GOP base just days after Scott Walker’s presidential campaign kickoff."
"It is sickening but not surprising that Gov. Walker has put his own political ambitions above the health and lives of Wisconsinites. By signing this bill, Walker has forced pure political calculation to take the place of medicine when it comes to personal decisions about a woman’s pregnancy," said Jenni Dye, research director for One Wisconsin Now and former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. "That even one woman’s life or health may be put at risk so Walker can increase his credibility with the extreme right-wing Republican presidential base is as unacceptable as it is heartbreaking. If Gov. Walker wants to make medical decisions, he should pursue a medical degree instead of continuing the relentless pursuit of his own political ambitions."
Dr. Kathy Hartke, chairwoman of the Wisconsin section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told a joint meeting of the Legislature’s health committees that in the event of a medical emergency, the bill would likely require a woman to deliver via Caesarean section.
Hartke said performing a C-section at or around 20 weeks would mean "basically filleting the uterus open" and would "tremendously" increase the risk of uterine rupture in a woman’s next pregnancy.
Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, one of the bill's lead sponsors, has argued that the legislation is on par with bans on partial-birth or post-viability abortions, and that the state has a compelling interest to not "inflict extreme pain and torture on children."
Lazich has also said the bill makes things clear for doctors in the case of a medical emergency.
Legal experts have said the bill likely would not withstand a challenge in court. Similar bans have been blocked by courts in three states.