The Assembly Committee on Health held a hearing today on a joint resolution that would change the definition of “personhood” in the state constitution.
Formally, the amendment would extend the legal definition of “personhood” to “every human being at any stage of development,” born or unborn.
Opponents to the resolution say that, in practice, the amendment would give equal civil rights to fertilized eggs that people have under the state’s constitution.
Sara Finger, Founder and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, says giving human embryos these legal rights will undermine women’s autonomy.
“We have to be honest about the real ramifications. We’re talking about every decision that a pregnant woman could make that could potentially impact that zygote, that fertilized egg, that fetus [being] up for scrutiny,” Finger says.
“So, what we’re opening up here by giving equal legal rights to a fertilized egg, if I am a pregnant woman who has been diagnosed with cancer and want to seek chemotherapy treatment, the powers that be, the judges, the criminal justice system, could find me and charge me criminally for getting chemotherapy and potentially harming a fertilized egg.”
Finger also describes the amendment as a “political game.”
“What gets incredibly frustrating is watching how quickly, if they want something to pass, if they want to advance in our state legislature, they can make it happen,” Finger says.
“The fact that you have bills from 2019, bills like paid family medical leave, bills to not shackle pregnant women, bills to give breastfeeding moms the rights they deserve in the workplace, the fact that all of those haven’t even gotten a committee hearing, and this is what’s being fast-tracked, Wisconsin voters need to understand what is happening in our Capitol dome that is completely out of touch with the needs and values of Wisconsin voters throughout the state.”
Matt Sande is the legislative director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, a group that has supported legislation like the joint resolution since 2011.
He says the amendment would counter a right to abortion should a future Wisconsin Supreme Court find that civil rights only apply to “born” persons.
“This is happening in other states [and has happened in] Iowa and Kansas most recently,” Sande says.
“Their state supreme courts found a substantive due process right to abortion in the liberty interest of their state constitution, so the state supreme courts found a fundamental right to abortion in the Kansas and Iowa constitutions, thus nullifying their pro-life laws, and now those states are now moving quickly to amend their state constitutions to enshrine the right to life and we are trying to do the same.”
But, the proposed amendment has not received broad support from groups opposing abortion.
Heather Weininger is the Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life, a pro-life organization that registered against the joint resolution.
She says the proposed amendment wouldn’t guarantee a right to life outright.
“If we want to ensure in our state constitution that abortion is just illegal, then that’s the direct route we have to take,” Weininger says.
“This particular resolution does not get us the desired outcome. If we have a Wisconsin Supreme Court who doesn’t see that our constitution is as what it reads, but as something that they can interpret, they can certainly interpret that abortion is something that’s a right for everyone in Wisconsin.”
For an amendment to the state constitution to pass, it must go through a three-vote process that does not require the governor’s signature.
First, the amendment must pass both houses of the legislature. Then, after the state holds its general elections, the amendment must once again pass in both the Assembly and the Senate.
Once the amendment passes the full legislature a second time, voters must approve the change at the next general election.
The resolution is waiting to receive a vote by the Assembly Committee on Health during a future executive session before going to the full Assembly.
If the amendment does make it to there, Speaker Robin Vos has indicated that it will not be taken up during this session.