Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he would sign legislation outlawing abortions in Wisconsin after the 20th week of pregnancy.
Walker’s announcement comes as he weighs a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and amid mounting criticism from anti-abortion advocates for what they characterize as him ducking a question during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” about whether a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy.
In an open letter posted on the website of The Weekly Standard, Walker said state lawmakers are likely to propose legislation that provides “further protections for mother and child” and will come to his desk in the form of a bill that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks.
“I will sign that bill when it gets to my desk and support similar legislation on the federal level,” wrote Walker, who has consistently opposed abortion but downplayed his position in his re-election bid for governor in 2014.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said Tuesday that Republicans are drafting legislation that would ban abortions at a disputed point in time when anti-abortion proponents say human fetuses are capable of feeling pain, but he said it does not establish a specific cutoff point of 20 weeks’ gestation. Jacque said he does not yet know when the bill will be introduced.
In the Fox News interview on Sunday, Chris Wallace questioned Walker after playing an ad from Walker’s 2014 re-election campaign against Madison School Board member Mary Burke.
In the ad, Walker says legislation he signed left the final decision about terminating a pregnancy to a woman and her doctor.
Walker explained to Wallace why he is against abortion but said the U.S. Supreme Court has declared abortions are legal and that the court is responsible for changing any abortion laws.
“Claiming you are impotent to act on your core principles is neither true nor wise,” the group’s president, Frank Cannon, wrote Monday. “What about advocating for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks?”
The letter was welcome news to Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right To Life, who said her organization is hopeful state lawmakers will “take quick action and introduce this and get it to the governor’s desk as quickly as possible.”
Walker downplayed his stance on abortion during his campaign against Burke, once saying he supported legislation “to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.”
But he also has told the State Journal he opposes the practice in all cases.
Walker has signed bills requiring ultrasounds before the procedure, and requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Wisconsin state law still makes performing an abortion a felony, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, but the federal Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationally made that law unenforceable.
Tuesday’s letter is consistent with Walker’s position all along, said Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
“A ban like this really threatens women’s access to abortion services,” she said. “For some women who end up making the really difficult decision to end a threatening and complicated pregnancy, we are especially concerned about those women having to drive to Chicago or Minneapolis, or even further, to get this care that a woman and her doctor and family decide is best for her and her health.”
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, called the letter “just another political stunt.”
She said Walker has always been “an extremist on issues that concern women’s health” and said that announcing his support for a 20-week abortion ban was done to distract from his 2015-17 budget proposal.
“He does not want the people to focus on this disastrous budget and his very poor choices that led us into this budget mess,” she said.
In his letter, Walker reiterated his past support for measures popular with abortion opponents, including cutting off state funding for Planned Parenthood.
The cuts, contained in his 2011-13 budget, eliminated funding for women’s health care services offered by Planned Parenthood in nine counties.
The centers provided medical exams, cancer screenings, birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases but not abortions, which state law already prohibited paying for with taxpayer dollars unless medically necessary.
Safar said Wisconsin voters tend to favor leaving the matter to women and their doctors and said she’s hopeful lawmakers will remember that as the bill moves through the Legislature.