ABORTION BAN 6-06182015111241

Protesters march to the governor's office at the Capitol in June to protest the 20-week abortion ban passed by the state Senate. The Assembly approved the bill Thursday and Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign it.

MIKE DeVRIES -- Capital Times

Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy after Assembly lawmakers on Thursday easily approved the legislation.

The Assembly’s 61-34 approval came after emotional testimony from lawmakers.

Under the bill, doctors who terminate pregnancies after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony and face up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The bill doesn’t provide exceptions for pregnancies conceived from a sexual assault or incest.

The bill was previously passed by the Senate. It now heads to Walker, who is expected to announce his candidacy for president on Monday. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Walker plans to sign the bill, but she added she does not yet know when that will be.

Walker has long been a proponent of anti-abortion legislation, but during his re-election campaign last year he expressed support for leaving pregnancy decisions to women and their doctors.

That stance has drawn criticism from religious conservatives in recent months, prompting Walker to request the 20-week abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest.

During the debate, Assembly members from both parties detailed personal experiences with lost pregnancies and read letters from constituents with similar stories.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, told a story about losing a daughter born prematurely — one of three miscarriages she experienced.

“Shouldn’t we defer or fall on the side of preventing a living being from feeling pain?” she said.

Protecting fetuses from pain was the chief aim of the legislation, Republican lawmakers agreed.

“To vote no on this bill is to classify certain children as subhuman,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum.

But Democratic lawmakers repeatedly argued that the decision should be left to mothers and doctors.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said lawmakers have no business making deeply personal decisions for women.

“Republicans have no business talking about small government when apparently it’s not too small to fit inside a uterus,” she said. “I feel that any woman who votes for this is truly a traitor to your gender.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Journal of the American Medical Association have concluded that evidence shows fetuses begin to feel pain during the third trimester — which begins at 27 weeks.

But the Assembly’s debate hinged mostly on whether the decision should be left to a mother and her doctor instead of lawmakers.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, detailed her personal story about having more than one miscarriage.

“I didn’t need you there,” she said. “I needed some great medical care.”

Reps. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and Berceau said drawing a line at 20 weeks could force fetuses with significant health problems to be carried to full term.

Referring to a letter from a constituent who had had an abortion, Subeck said, “It was her choice not to put her baby through the pain of being born and suffering, not even able to get oxygen until it died.”

But Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, said prohibiting fetuses from going through an “extremely excruciating” procedure was paramount.

“The bill protects children from being tortured and feeling pain,” he said. “That’s all this bill does.”

According to the most recent state Department of Health Services information, 89 of nearly 6,500 abortions performed in Wisconsin in 2013, or roughly 1 percent, occurred after the 20-week mark.

Fourteen states have passed abortion bans at 20 weeks or earlier, which depart from the standard established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling established a nationwide right to abortion but allowed states to restrict the procedures after the fetus reaches viability, the point where it could survive outside the womb. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability but said it could range from the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.

Courts have blocked earlier bans in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona. Litigation in other states is ongoing. A federal appellate court in May struck down Arkansas’ ban on abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, finding that prohibition unconstitutionally burdens women.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.