Doctors who perform abortions would have to arrange for the burial, cremation or medical donation of the fetal remains under a bill introduced Thursday in the Legislature.

Wisconsin would become the second state after Michigan to adopt such a law, which abortion rights advocates decried as “another attempt to restrict access to abortions.”

The latest in a series of abortion-related bills proposed by Wisconsin legislators was introduced by Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, and Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. It would require a doctor performing an abortion to “arrange for the final disposition” of the fetal remains.

The bill defines final disposition as “burial, interment, entombment, cremation, incineration or delivery to a medical or dental school anatomy department as an anatomical gift.” The fetus would have to be at least 10 weeks old, or have developed a visibly defined head, torso or limbs.

Bies said he introduced the bill after reading about incidents in other states where fetal remains were disposed of like medical waste.

“To me, the fetus is a human being and needs to be treated with the respect that we would give any human being,” Bies said.

Bies said the bill was not a response to any incident in Wisconsin, but his research included a 2010 report by an anti-abortion group in Michigan that investigated the alleged dumping of medical waste at an abortion clinic. The group said the clinic had disposed of fetuses in a trash container, but subsequent police investigations could not substantiate that claim.

In Wisconsin, there is no specific law regulating how fetal remains must be handled. The Department of Natural Resources classifies human tissue as a type of medical waste that must be incinerated or rendered non-infectious and unrecognizable before being disposed, but it does not specifically address fetal remains.

Stephanie Wilson, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which operates three of the state’s four abortion clinics, said the organization follows state and federal regulations related to disposal of fetal remains. She did not offer more specifics.

“Abortion is a deeply personal, private and complex decision that women should make in consultation with their doctors, not politicians,” Wilson said.

The bill likely would not apply to medication-induced abortions, which are only done during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, said Elizabeth Nash, a policy expert for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group that supports abortion rights.

The Legislature recently sent a bill to Gov. Scott Walker that would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound performed. Walker has said he would sign that bill. Spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said he won’t evaluate the other abortion-related bills until they are approved by the Legislature.

Other bills adopted by the Assembly, but yet to be taken up by the Senate, would ban abortions based on gender selection, prohibit abortion insurance coverage for public employees and exempt religious organizations from having to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and the Republican Senate caucus plan to review the remaining abortion bills before the fall but have not taken a position on them yet, Fitzgerald spokeswoman Alyssa Moyer said. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is reviewing the fetal remains bill, but no decisions have been made about the fall calendar, his spokeswoman Kit Beyer said.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.