By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans moved within a step Thursday of banning non-emergency abortions at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy after the state Assembly approved the prohibition and sent the measure on to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.
The chamber approved the bill 61-34 after two hours of debate. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the measure in June. Walker, who is expected to announce a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on Monday, has promised to sign the proposal but hasn’t said when. His signature would make Wisconsin the 15th state to pass a ban on abortion at 20 weeks or after.
The bill’s supporters say that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks and the prohibition will spare them the agony of being killed. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that’s not possible until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks. Minority Democrats in the Assembly blasted the bill, imploring Republicans to leave women alone and let them decide whether and when to obtain an abortion.
Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau said the bill is designed to help Gov. Scott Walker the 2016 GOP presidential nomination by appealing to conservatives.
“You’re playing with women’s uteruses for political reasons and the governor is the worst offender,” Berceau said.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick didn’t immediately answer an email message seeking a response to Berceau’s accusations. Assembly Republicans countered that they’re simply trying to spare children pain.
Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, , chairman of the Assembly’s health committee, likened abortions after 20 weeks to torture, describing procedures where abortion providers tear apart fetuses with clamps.
“The state has a compelling interest to protect children. This bill is all about protecting children from feeling pain,” Sanfelippo said.
Under the bill, doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and 3½ years in prison. The fetus’ parents also could sue the doctor for damages.
Doctors would be allowed to perform abortions beyond 20 weeks if the mother is likely to die or suffer irreversible injuries within 24 hours. The proposal doesn’t provide any exemptions for aborting pregnancies resulting from sexual assault or incest.
According to the most recent state Department of Health Services information, 89 of nearly 6,500 abortions performed in Wisconsin in 2013, or roughly 1 percent, occurred after the 20-week mark.
Fourteen states have passed abortion bans at 20 weeks or earlier, which depart from the standard established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling established a nationwide right to abortion but allowed states to restrict the procedures after the fetus reaches viability, the point where it could survive outside the womb. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability but said it could range from the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
Courts have blocked bans in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona. Litigation in other states is ongoing. A federal appellate court in May struck down Arkansas’ ban on abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, finding that prohibition unconstitutionally burdens women.