Late last night, Politico reported that they had received a leaked document from the US Supreme Court, showing that the court intended to overrule the historic Roe V Wade.
While that memo is not definitive, Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court did say that it was legitimate and that it showed the current viewpoint of the court.
If Roe v Wade is overturned, abortion law in Wisconsin would immediately revert to the previous law on the books, banning all abortions with a penalty of up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That law was passed in 1849. It would allow exceptions for when a mother’s life is in danger, but would not provide exceptions for incest or rape.
Jenny Higgins is a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UW Madison, and is Director of the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity. She says that overturning Roe would not prevent abortion – just safe and legal abortion.
“We know that some Wisconsinites will manage their own abortions, and there are some extremely safe and effective ways of doing this. Since Roe v Wade passed, there are several FDA approved pills that help medicated abortions. We do know that there are some modalities that are not safe and effective, and we do anticipate that people will engage in these if they don’t know of the resource. We are expecting that to happen as well,” Higgins says.
“Research has shown that people already seek self-mediated abortions from a variety of sources. A commonly used one is Aid Access, a nonprofit based in the United Kingdom that provides access to medical abortion by mail,” Higgins says.
As the news broke, Wisconsin politicians from both sides of the aisle responded to the leaked memo.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took to Twitter to bash the ruling, and called for Congress to protect access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.
Jenni Dye is Evers’ Policy Director.
“The governor and the Attorney General, along with abortion advocates from across Wisconsin, have called on the legislature to overturn Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban, and are certainly still supportive of the legislature taking it off the books. Unfortunately, the legislature concluded their session without taking action, but there is still time for them to do the right thing,” Dye says.
Also today, Evers announced that he is leading a coalition of state governors calling for Congress to take immediate action to protect reproductive rights and access to abortion.
Also today, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, along with city council President Keith Furman and Vice President Jael Currie condemned the leaked decision.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway says that now is the time to act.
“I’m just really disappointed in the Supreme Court and, frankly, in Congress, because we had 50 years where we could have codified the right to health care into law, and they haven’t yet. We’ve just been counting on the Supreme Court to protect our rights and we can no longer do that, so it’s time for Congress to act,” Rhodes-Conway says.
She says that it’s not only Congress who should act, but that Madison residents can take steps as well.
“I think the real path forward here is for us to focus on two things. First, to pressure the Senate to do the right thing and pass laws, such as the Women’s Health Protection Act. They need to pass that right away, the house has already passed it. The second thing is that elections matter, so we need everyone to register to vote, and to vote in every election,” Rhodes-Conway says.
In January, state lawmakers introduced a bill to remove most abortion restrictions here in Wisconsin, though it was not passed in the latest legislative session.
Democratic State Senator Melissa Agard of Madison helped to introduce the bill. She says that the legislature’s failure to pass that bill led to the situation the state is in today.
“Wisconsin, because of a 173 year old law that continues to be on the books, will very likely be a state where abortion is completely criminalized. And we will be an oasis of prohibition for many people to have access to important health care. That to me is heinous and very disappointing,” Agard says
Senator Agard also says that she recognizes that the overturning of Roe V Wade will affect everyone in Wisconsin, not just women.
“The intention to overturn Roe v Wade will certainly have very adverse effects on lots of folks, not just women, but trans folks and genderfluid folks who have uterus’ that can lead to pregnancy as well. It’s important to see those folks as well as being harmed by this policy,” Agard says.
Democratic State Senator Brad Pfaff of Onalaska also helped to introduce the bill. Early today he called for a special legislative session to pass the bill.
“… that is something that we cannot let stand, This constitutes an emergency, not just for women but for their families as well, and for all of us. That’s why I think it’s important that Governor Evers calls us back into session. We need to address this issue immediately. We need to show women that we have their backs, that we will protect their rights. I know I’m going to fight like hell to protect their rights,” Pfaff says.
Governor Evers has called a number of special sessions while in office, for regulation on everything from gun control to education spending. While the Governor can call a special session, he cannot force the legislature to act – and with a GOP majority, most sessions have been quickly gaveled in and out.
On the flip side of the coin, Republican politicians are praising the apparent intent to overturn Roe V Wade. Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch took to Twitter last night to say, quote, “It’s about time!”
Current US Senator Ron Johnson also weighed in. Johnson tells the Wisconsin State Journal he’s concerned not with the content of the decision, but the fact that it was leaked at all.
Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of abortions here in Wisconsin. Lisa Boyce with Planned Parenthood says that they will help anyone in Wisconsin find a safe and legal way to access abortions.
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Planned Parenthood doors will remain open across the state. We have 22 health centers across the state, 3 of which provide abortion services. All of our doors will remain open, even if we cannot provide safe and legal abortion services here in Wisconsin, we will be working with all of our patients in need of abortion services to get services across state lines if necessary, and to work with them in providing care as needed when they return home,” Boyce says.
The court is expected to formally issue a decision this summer.
Photo courtesy: Benyami Bohlouli / UNSPLASH