Lest any Republican presidential primary voters think he is wobbly on the issue of abortion after downplaying the issue in his 2014 campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker now is expected to sign another abortion restriction. A ban on abortions after 20 weeks, personally requested by Walker to include no exceptions for rape and incest, cleared the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday.
In October, during a gubernatorial re-election campaign that featured a Walker campaign ad soft-pedaling his stance on abortion, Walker had evaded a direct answer on his position on such a bill. “Those are things that we’ll have to talk about in the next legislative session if it comes up,” Walker said in October. But the Republican Wisconsin Senate majority leader told the New York Times last month that Walker did, in fact, have a lot to say about the bill: He asked for a 20-week abortion ban bill that contained no exceptions for rape and incest. “It sent a message to us,” said the Senate leader, Scott Fitzgerald.
Walker defended the lack of exceptions in an interview in June. “I mean, I think for most people who are concerned about that, it’s in the initial months where they’re most concerned about it,” Walker said. Back in March, he affirmed his support for the bill in an open letter to anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, which has made such bills a priority.
Rep. Terese Berceau, a Democratic member of the state Assembly, told msnbc that legislators were expecting the bill in the fall, but that “the leadership wanted to tack it right onto the agenda right after we passed the budget late last night,” meaning Wednesday. “They were in a real big rush,” Berceau said. The bill was eventually passed Thursday, meaning that Walker may have time to sign it into law just as he announces his candidacy for president next week.
Over the opposition of some anti-abortion groups, the bill has an exception for when the woman’s life is endangered, but not for fetal anomalies. Berceau said she was concerned that the emergency health exception was toothless. “The mother could be dying. She could be in the last throes of life, but they’re saying that you have to perform [the abortion] in a way that you maximize the ability of the fetus to survive outside the womb.”
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In 2013, about 1% of abortions in Wisconsin took place after 20 weeks, figures that are consistent with national numbers. The law, like those in the 11 other states that have passed similar bans, is premised on the idea that fetuses can feel pain at that point, which is disputed by the medical evidence. Although such bans clearly violate the viability standard set by the Supreme Court, pro-choice advocates have been reluctant to try their luck with them at a more conservative court. What challenges have been brought, in the more liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, have declared the fetal-pain laws to be unconstitutional. They remain atop the wish list of many anti-abortion groups, who hope to use them both as a public relations vehicle to undermine public support for abortion rights and as a way to pierce holes in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.