On Thursday, two months after a state judge declared a 19th century anti-abortion law too ambiguous to enforce, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) announced that it would resume abortion services in the state.
PPWI halted abortion services in June 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections that were recognized in Roe v. Wade. PPWI had cut off such services because it was uncertain whether a state law from 1849, which is still on the books in Wisconsin but had been blocked by Roe when it was decided in 1973, forbade the organization from continuing to provide the procedure.
In July of this year, however, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled that a lawsuit challenging that 1849 state law, brought forward by state Attorney General Josh Kaul (D), could proceed. Schlipper also stated in her decision that “there is no such thing as an ‘1849 Abortion Ban’ in Wisconsin,” because the law doesn’t refer to regulations on consensual abortion.
The law states that “any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an
unborn child is guilty” of a felony, implying that, if a pregnant person consents to an abortion, it is perfectly legal to provide that service, Schlipper reasoned.
Because of that ruling, PPWI said it would resume providing abortions starting on Monday in Milwaukee and Dane counties, the two most populous counties in the state.
“Abortion is health care. The people of Wisconsin have been without this essential and necessary care for over a year,” Tanya Atkinson, PPWI President and CEO, said in a video message announcing the organization’s decision.
Schlipper’s initial ruling in the lawsuit over the 1849 law “made it clear” that the statute “is not enforceable,” Atkinson said, adding that “PPWI is confident in our decision to resume abortion care in Wisconsin.”
There is a high likelihood that the lawsuit, which is set to be formally decided by Schlipper soon, will be challenged by right-wing, anti-abortion groups in the state. But much has changed since last year — in April, Wisconsinites elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz to the state Supreme Court, tilting the bench to a liberal majority and increasing the likelihood that the court will rule against the statute.
There is a slight possibility, however, that conservative lawmakers in the state legislature will unlawfully attempt to impeach Protasiewicz soon due to comments she made during her campaign that they errantly claim impede her ability to be a fair jurist. If that happens, the court will be split 3-3 between liberals and conservatives, clouding the outcome of any appeal of Schlipper’s ruling.
Still, advocacy groups praised PPWI’s decision to resume abortion services next week.
“Today’s announcement from our friends at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is a monumental step in solidifying across the state the overwhelmingly popular belief among Wisconsinites that politicians have no place in our exam rooms, and elected officials have no business mandating decisions that ought to be made between a patient and their doctor,” read a statement from Lucy Ripp, a spokesperson for A Better Wisconsin Together, a progressive organization in the state.
As we celebrate this step forward, we acknowledge that we are not yet at the finish line, and the work to make comprehensive reproductive rights a reality in Wisconsin must continue.
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