Court blocks Wisconsin’s new restrictions on reproductive rights

Court blocks Wisconsin's new restrictions on reproductive rights
Court blocks Wisconsin's new restrictions on reproductive rights
Associated Press

On Friday, when he hoped no one was looking, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) approved sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights, including a requirement that women receive a medically unnecessary ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy, and regulatory measures that would close half of the state’s abortion clinics.

The law was supposed to go into effect statewide yesterday. A federal court had other ideas.

A federal judge Monday temporarily blocked part of Wisconsin’s new abortion law and scheduled a hearing for next week.

The law, which went into effect Monday, includes provisions similar to those in several other states that require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion and require doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital.

U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a temporary restraining order yesterday afternoon, blocking the admitting privileges requirement. He also set a hearing on a full injunction for July 17 – a week from tomorrow.

Specifically, Conley noted in his 19-page ruling that the admitting-privileges provision of the Republican measure serves “no medical purpose” and was rushed into law for no apparent reason. It is up to state officials to prove that it safeguarded women’s health, he wrote, which he said “does not bear even superficial scrutiny on the current record.”

For opponents of reproductive rights, Wisconsin was discouraging, but they saw far more progress in Texas, where a state House committee, following a nine-hour hearing, easily approved sweeping new restrictions. The process did not go smoothly – as committee Democrats noted, GOP committee leaders “limited testimony at a public hearing, declined to hear from hundreds more waiting to testify and refused to consider Democratic amendments – and at times even failed recognize Democrats to speak at all to raise questions.”

Texas Republicans didn’t much care, approved the restrictions, and sent the package to the state House floor, where debate is scheduled to begin today.

Before we move on, though, let’s not overlook the larger context.

The Guttmacher Institute published an important report yesterday on the scope of the fight in state legislatures.

In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights; issues related to abortion, family planning funding and sex education were significant flashpoints in several legislatures. Although initial momentum behind banning abortion early in pregnancy appears to have waned, states nonetheless adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and is as many as were enacted in all of 2012.

Following the 2012 elections, Republicans at the state level decided what the party really needs is an even-more-aggressive culture-war posture, giving up on mainstream priorities such as job creation, and devoting excessive attention to reproductive rights.