In a move that was blasted by reproductive rights groups and the state's medical community, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Monday signed a bill that bans abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with only a narrow allowance for medical necessity.
The ban makes some exceptions when the woman's life is in danger, but not for cases of rape, incest, or when the fetus has severe abnormalities.
Walker, a Republican who is running for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, said he signed HB179 because he believes that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks—a controversial notion that is often held up by the pro-life sector and which has little medical or scientific basis.
According to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, the law is set to go into effect next year. It will make it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks. Doctors who perform the procedure could face up to 3 1/2 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
As the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) pointed out in a statement on Monday, the bill was opposed by groups like the Wisconsin Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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"Wisconsin politicians have criminalized safe, legal abortion services at the same time they are attempting to eliminate all abortion services by shutting down clinics with sham laws and red tape," said CRR president and CEO Nancy Northup. "With this law, women in Wisconsin will soon face a catch-22 of shrinking options earlier in pregnancy and a complete ban on services later in pregnancy. Women deserve to make their own health care decisions with the medical professionals she trusts, not interference from her governor or legislature who presume to know better."
Opponents sent a letter to the Wisconsin legislature urging them to vote against the bill, which passed the state assembly earlier this month. "This bill would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time," the letter, signed by 100 obstetrician-gynecologists, stated.
But their appeal went unheard.
Abortions after 20 weeks make up less than one percent of all abortions and is most often undertaken by women who discover a fetal abnormality that was not previously detectable.
According to RH Reality Check, similar bans "with varying exceptions have been enacted in 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. Laws banning abortion at 20 weeks have been blocked in three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho. As a result of litigation, therefore, a total of 12 such bans were in effect as of April 29, 2015."