POLITICS

Mother's Health Takes Backseat To Fetus' In Wisconsin Abortion Bill

06/05/2015 03:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2015

A Wisconsin state Senate committee advanced an abortion restriction on Thursday that prioritizes the health of the fetus when the pregnant woman's life and health are in danger, The Cap Times first reported.

The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest, except when the woman is undergoing a medical emergency. In an emergency situation, the bill "requires the physician to terminate the pregnancy in the manner that, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive" -- not in the manner that provides the best opportunity for the woman to survive.

During a committee debate on the bill Thursday, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) asked a representative from Legislative Counsel to clarify whether the bill requires the doctor to focus on the mother and the fetus, or just the fetus, in emergency situations. The counsel explained, "The statute is silent on the mother, and includes that provision related to the unborn child."

Most 20-week abortion bans that have passed in states include language protecting the mother, because in an emergency situation, the procedure that is most likely to save the fetus may put the mother's life further at risk. But the Wisconsin bill says only that the doctor is not "required" to employ a method of abortion that increases the risk to the woman.

"That provision is different than what we normally see," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. "Usually the legislation requires the provider to use the method that is best for fetal survival unless that method puts the woman’s life or health further at risk. These bills are missing the part that takes into consideration the woman’s health and life."

One of the bill's sponsors, state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R), told The Huffington Post in an email that the bill does not prioritize the fetus' health over the mother's. "The truth is, there is nothing in the bill that requires a doctor to 'ignore the health of the mother,'" Sanfelippo said. "Under this bill, both lives will be treated equally."

Erpenbach tried on Thursday to attach an amendment to the bill that would require doctors to prioritize the mother's health in emergency situations, but the Senate Health and Human Services Committee rejected it on a party-line vote.

"Even offering a simple change to apply current law protections to women, to mothers, was unacceptable to Senate Republicans," Erpenbach said in a statement after the vote. "Let me be clear, today the Republicans on the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services refused to guarantee women across the state of Wisconsin lifesaving protections, and increased confusion for the doctors providing their care.”

The 20-week ban is scheduled for a vote in the full Wisconsin Senate next week, and Gov. Scott Walker (R) has indicated that he will sign it if it reaches his desk.

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