Remain vigilant about state abortion laws Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 07, 2019 -- 12:00 AM

The issue of abortion has been in the news this year, as some states are attempting to expand abortion rights and other states are attempting to restrict them.

Wisconsin citizens might wonder where our state stands on the issue of abortion.

Laws still on the books

The Guttmacher Institute reports that laws outlawing abortion are still on the books in Wisconsin. Since at least 1849, performing an abortion is criminally prohibited here. Chapter 133, Section 11, Laws of 1849, provides that:

“Every person who shall administer to any woman pregnant with a quick child, any medicine, drug, or substance whatever, or shall use or employ any instrument or other means, with intent thereby to destroy such child, unless the same shall have been necessary to preserve the life of such mother, or shall have been advised by two physicians to be necessary for such purpose, shall, in case the death of such child or of such mother be hereby produced, be deemed guilty of manslaughter in the second degree.”

Effect of Roe v. Wade

In its 1973 landmark decision, Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion is legal throughout the nation in many instances, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy, despite laws in many states, including Wisconsin, prohibiting the procedure.

The Supreme Court held that blanket restrictions violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against state action the right of privacy, including a woman’s qualified right to terminate her pregnancy.

In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court upheld the essential holding of Roe v. Wade allowing abortion, but also held that certain state restrictions on abortion are permissible.

Laws prohibiting all abortions in Wisconsin remain on the statute books, but are unenforceable due to the Supreme Court decisions.

Restrictions on abortion

Wisconsin has since passed a number of laws restricting access to abortions, primarily to protect women. These restrictions include:

• A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility.

• Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion if the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised, or in cases of rape or incest.

• Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases in which the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised, or in cases of rape or incest.

• The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited.

• The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided; health professionals are allowed to waive parental involvement in limited circumstances.

• Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape and incest, and when the procedure is necessary to prevent long-lasting damage to the woman's physical health.

• A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must show and describe the image to the woman.

Lawsuit filed

In January, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin asked a federal judge to repeal certain state laws restricting abortion.

Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, wasn’t surprised that Planned Parenthood brought the lawsuit, because she said the group wants to maximize the number of abortions it can perform. She emphasized that these laws are “for the protection of women.”

These include laws requiring that only doctors perform abortions; women seeking medicine that causes abortions see the same doctor on two separate visits; and doctors be physically present when dispensing abortion-causing drugs.

Concerned citizens in Wisconsin should remain vigilant about any attempts to change the abortion laws in our state. One way is to stay in touch with Wisconsin Right to Life (, Pro-life Wisconsin (, Vigil for Life Madison (, and other pro-life organizations.