Wisconsin doctors consider options for abortion patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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Wisconsin is one of nine states with so-called 'trigger laws' that would make abortions illegal if the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

In anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, some Wisconsin doctors are suggesting they might open an abortion clinic across the state border in Rockford, Illinois.  

Wisconsin is one of nine states with so-called "trigger laws" that would make abortions illegal if Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a federal right to abortion, were overturned, leaving millions of Wisconsinites without access to the procedures: Its statute banning abortion, which dates from 1894, would automatically go into effect.

The law would render the provision of an abortion punishable by up to six years in prison or $10,000 in fines. The statute states, "Any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony." The law defines "unborn child" as "a human being from the time of conception until it is born alive." The termination of a pregnancy after fetal movement has been detected, involving what the law calls an "unborn, quick child," is classified as a class E felony, which carries a 10-year prison sentence, a provision that again does not apply to the pregnant person. 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Douglas Laube, the former chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said that he and other doctors who offer abortions are eyeing Rockford, Illinois, for a clinic. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Laube said, "My idea would be that there could be handful of physicians who might provide medical abortion — clandestinely, obviously. There might be a little strength in numbers ... We're really talking about Madison and Milwaukee."

On May 3, following the leak of a draft ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization regarding Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers joined 16 other state governors in signing a letter to the leaders of both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate urging Congress to act swiftly to guarantee the reproductive rights of all Americans.

Seventy percent of Wisconsinites live in counties without reproductive health care clinics, and there are currently only four clinics in the state performing abortions, according to the Women's Medical Fund.

If Roe is overturned, even these resources would be closed down, leaving no legal facilities in the state.  

Planned Parenthood of Illinois opened a clinic in Waukegan, only 11 miles from the border with Wisconsin, in 2020, and stated in its announcement about the clinic, "The Waukegan Health Center serves residents in McHenry County, northern Cook County, the city of Chicago, and Kenosha County, Wisconsin."

In 2019 Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed the Reproductive Health Care Act, which codifies Roe into Illinois law. The text says, "This Act sets forth the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about one's own reproductive health, including the fundamental right to use or refuse reproductive health care," and specifically mentions abortion as part of that health care.

In a press release issued by Pritzker's office on May 3 following the leaking of the Supreme Court's draft decision, Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said, "We recognize the magnitude of this decision should it go forward, the amount of pain and trauma it can cause. That is why we gave our all to enshrine a person's reproductive rights in Illinois, and we remain committed to making our state a safe haven for everyone in need of accessible, equitable healthcare on their terms."

Many Democratic lawmakers echoed her sentiments, including Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, who said, "As long as there is a Democratic majority in the Illinois State Senate, women will have their rights protected. We will stand as a bulwark against any efforts to turn back the clock to darker days."

According to NPR, Illinois has been preparing for an influx of people seeking abortions from neighboring states with less access or more restrictions. Data shows that about 9,600 people from outside Illinois traveled to the state in 2020 to access reproductive health care, and Planned Parenthood of Illinois said that it could expect to see as many as 20,000 people seeking services from surrounding states if Roe is rescinded.   

The director of polling at Marquette Law School noted in a tweet on May 3 that an average of 60% of registered voters in Wisconsin have consistently supported legalized abortion in polls over the past 10 years. 

However, the four leading candidates in the race for governor of Wisconsin — Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels, Kevin Nicholson, and Timothy Ramthun — have all said they would ban abortion with no exceptions. The Republican candidate for attorney general, Eric Toney, has said he would enforce the Wisconsin ban if it takes effect.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.