Critics of Wisconsin's proposed 20-week abortion ban say the wording of its medical emergency provision is too vague and could negatively affect the quality of care doctors provide. But some of the bill's supporters want the provision eliminated from the bill entirely, arguing that its language creates a loophole for physicians to provide abortions.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, told lawmakers on the Legislature's health committees on Tuesday she plans to introduce a "friendly amendment" removing language governing what a physician should do if a woman undergoes a medical emergency after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Brandtjen said she shares with the bill's authors "the same good intentions of protecting pre-born children from the pain of abortion by dismemberment," adding that her amendment would "bring clarification to the false and confusing proposition that abortion is ever medically necessary to save the life of a mother."
"There’s a fundamental difference between the abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of a baby, and the unavoidable death of a baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother," Brandtjen said during the bill's committee hearing.
Brandtjen isn't alone in wanting the provision removed from the bill. Matt Sande, director of legislative affairs for Pro-Life Wisconsin, and Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, both urged legislators to scrap the language.
Pro-Life Wisconsin supports the ban, but can't support the bill itself unless that language is removed, Sande told lawmakers.
"This is a very wonderful opportunity for Wisconsin to enact one of the best pieces of pro-life legislation we’ve ever been able to do," Appling said on Tuesday. "Our concern is that we take it from good to best. That we have an opportunity to push back, to force courts to understand that babies at 20 weeks do feel pain, that the reality is it’s not an either/or situation when a mother presents with what is defined or considered a medical emergency. It’s not an either/or situation today, it is a both/and."
Appling said her organization will support the bill if, after doing everything it can to persuade lawmakers to add the amendment, they choose to leave it as-is.
Drafting records for the bill show that Brandtjen's amendment was submitted for drafting last week.
"If there was any question about how extreme and dangerous this abortion ban is, this amendment answers it," said Jenni Dye, an attorney and research director for One Wisconsin Now and former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. "The bill already puts right wing politics ahead of what is right for Wisconsin families, and this amendment is just another attempt to cater to the most extreme anti-choice groups. Politics has no place in these decisions about a woman's pregnancy."
The Legislature's health committees are set to vote on the bill on Thursday and its authors hope for it to go before the full Legislature by the end of the month.
Asked whether he would be open to adopting the amendment, bill co-sponsor Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, said in an email, "We have had quite a few discussions between their office and ours to ensure that this bill does exactly what we want it to address, however, any changes that we have attempted to make have changed intent of the bill in our discussions with the drafting attorneys."
Lazich's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but WisPolitics reported on Thursday that the senator doesn't expect any Republicans to add amendments in the committee's executive session.
Kremer told the Cap Times in May he doesn't believe the medical emergency provision is truly an exception because a doctor would be inducing a pregnancy and not performing a dilation-and-evacuation abortion.
"I don't consider the medical emergency (clause) to be an exception," he said. "Once again, the intent is not there to go and take the life of the child. You're trying to do whatever you can to save the mother and the child."
Brandtjen argued that the bill, as written, creates an "unnecessary and potentially abused loophole" that makes it difficult to interpret whether a child is "to be delivered alive or dismembered."
"Any exceptions within the pain-capable legislation would undermine the consistency and the intent of the bill as well as create confusion and seemingly justify the increased acceptability of abortion," she said.
But doctors opposing the bill argued that there are cases when an abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the mother.
"That is absolutely not true," said Dr. Kathy Hartke, chairwoman of the Wisconsin section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, when asked to respond to the assertion that abortions are never medically necessary.
Hartke cited the recent case of a colleague treating a patient with severe aortic stenosis. Hartke said the cardiologist treating the patient told the ob/gyn that the woman needed heart surgery to survive and could not go through labor — she would need a dilation-and-evacuation abortion.
"Yes, there are some of those cases," Hartke said.
When a similar argument against abortion was made by U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois in 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued this statement: "Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event, particularly for many women with chronic medical conditions."