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Lawmakers advance 20-week abortion ban bill (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A fast-tracked Wisconsin bill that would ban non-emergency abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy advanced through a Senate committee Thursday, but its prospects remain unclear in the Assembly.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services approved the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Under the proposal, doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony and subject to $10,000 in fines or 3½ years in prison. As written, the bill doesn’t provide exceptions for pregnancies conceived from sexual assault or incest.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, refused to add a last-minute amendment from Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, that would have prioritized a mother’s care over that of a fetus in an emergency situation. Erpenbach said bill’s co-author, Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, was trying to rush the bill through the Capitol, with unexpected consequences.

“This legislation is all about treating the fetus first, period. That’s it,” Erpenbach said. “The Senate president has been hell-bent on rushing this to the point that she doesn’t know what it is.”

Vukmir said the state’s existing abortion statute gave sufficient description on treating a mother and a fetus in an emergency situation before she called a vote.

While the bill’s supporters and some doctors contend fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says evidence suggests that’s not possible until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks.

Senate leaders have said the full chamber will likely vote to pass the measure on Tuesday.

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

Several states have passed 20-week bans, which depart from the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling established a nationwide right to abortion but permitted states to restrict the procedures after the point of viability — when a fetus could viably survive outside the womb under normal conditions. It offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range from the 24th to the 28th week of a pregnancy.

But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Wednesday that the abortion bill would not be taken up by the Assembly when that chamber meets on Tuesday. Vos said the Assembly did not plan to be in session again in June, except to debate the budget, and that his caucus had not yet discussed the abortion bill. The Assembly Committee on Health had yet to schedule a vote on the bill Thursday.

Gov. Scott Walker has said he would sign the bill.

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