State Senate May Avoid Abortion Debate in 2014

Jan 7, 2014

State lawmakers will return to the Capitol later this month to take up remaining legislation.
Credit bcdixit

The state Legislature is heading into the final weeks of its two-year session.  A few divisive issues apparently will not surface; among them, new restrictions on abortion.

After the new Republican-controlled Legislature took office last January, it passed several bills restricting abortion.

One requires women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound. Another requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Moments after Gov. Walker signed the requirement, abortion rights activists sued. The courts have temporarily blocked the law, while the legal battle continues.

Heather Weininger is disappointed. She works for Wisconsin Right to Life.

“It’s unfortunate that at this time the safety of the woman is being placed in jeopardy,” Weininger says.

While the law awaits trial, Weininger was hoping the Legislature would pass two other bills on the group’s wish list.

One would ban abortions sought because of gender preference; the other would allow government and religious institutions to strike abortion from their health insurance coverage.

The Assembly passed both bills in June, but they did not come up for a vote in the Senate in fall.

Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson says he’s not surprised. He says Republicans know elections are approaching.

“They are cognizant of the fact that they have not done things for jobs. Instead they’ve focused on bills that their very active, extreme base is interested in and they realize the public is paying attention to that,” Larson says.

A Senate committee narrowly passed both measures in November. But last week, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he does not know if there’s enough support among Republicans to bring the bills to the floor for a vote. He says members feel as if they’re spinning their wheels by passing abortion bills that get tied up in court.

GOP Sen. Glenn Grothman says he hopes his party is not intimidated. He authored the measure banning sex selective abortions.

“It would certainly be a long floor debate and a lot of Democrats would fight and say it’s a war against women,” Grothman says.

While Senate leaders determine whether to schedule the abortion bills or leave them behind, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin plans intense lobbying efforts.

Spokeswoman Tanya Atkinson says it will highlight a recent Marquette Law School poll. It indicates that most Wisconsin residents don’t support new abortion restrictions.

“They support access to preventive services. I think constituents across Wisconsin will continue to tell legislative leadership to stop passing this type of legislation,” Atkinson says.

If the Senate does not vote on the bills this spring, they will die, because the legislative session will have ended.