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Wisconsin Republicans press on with attempts to limit abortion rights

Abortion opponents in Wisconsin are seeking to outlaw the main set of procedures used to end pregnancies after the 12th week.

Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, has made banning the procedures its top priority, calling them particularly cruel because they can lead to a fetus being removed from a uterus in pieces during an abortion. Opponents of the ban say doctors rely on the procedure when a pregnant women or fetus experiences medical challenges in the second trimester.

The proposal is one of several abortion-related issues that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers could consider this year.

Republicans in states such as Wisconsin have made progress in limiting abortion rights by adding specific restrictions to the practice each legislative session. In 2015 Walker and legislators banned abortions after 20 weeks from fertilization, and this time abortion opponents are targeting what they refer to as “dismemberment abortions,” which are typically employed earlier in a woman’s pregnancy.

“Certainly, a priority for us is ending dismemberment abortions and ending a gruesome procedure,” said Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.

In addition, Republican state Rep. Andre Jacque said he will introduce a bill this session to prohibit University of Wisconsin physicians from doing outside work for Planned Parenthood clinics or any other abortion provider.

The dilation and evacuation proposal — which has yet to be released in the form of a bill — brings with it the prospect of a legislative fight with abortion rights activists and, if that is successful, a court battle.

In 2013, Walker and lawmakers required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they practice. Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services — the state’s two abortion providers — sued in federal court and that provision in the law was declared unconstitutional, first by a U.S. district judge in Madison, and then by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

“I’m sure that anything that can be passed in this cycle, should it be passed, would be challenged,” Weininger said of the latest proposal.

Madison attorney Lester Pines pointed out that the state had to pay abortion providers $1.6 million in legal fees in the admitting privileges case, saying a similar outcome is likely if lawmakers pass a dismemberment and evacuation ban.

Lawmakers “swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitutionm and then they go and pass laws that they know aren’t constitutional,” he said.

The procedures targeted by opponents as “dismemberment abortions” are similar to what the medical establishment refers to as dilation and evacuation abortions.

According to WebMD, the procedures are typically done in the second trimester of a pregnancy and involve removing a fetus with a combination of a suction tube and instruments such as a forceps and a curved tool for scraping away tissue known as a curette.

The reasons for using this set of procedures could include a “fetus with severe medical problems or abnormalities,” the site said.

In an October 2015 statement, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called dilation and evacuation the “predominant approach to abortion after 13 weeks.”

This approach is “evidence-based and medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures,” the statement says. “Efforts to ban specific types of procedures will limit the ability of physicians to provide women with the medically appropriate care.”

Nicole Safar, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said anti-abortion activists are “trying to ban abortions across the board, not a specific procedure.”

Of the 5,461 induced abortions in Wisconsin in 2015, about 18 percent of them were performed during or after the 13th week of pregnancy, according to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The National Right to Life Committee says that since 2015, what the group describes as “dismemberment abortion” bans.

In three of the states, Kansas, Alabama and Oklahoma, the laws have been blocked for now by a judge, according to the committee. In Louisiana, the state has delayed enforcement, and in two other states, West Virginia and Mississippi, the laws are in effect.

Repbulican lawmakers also are expected to bring back another priority of Wisconsin Right to Life, a bill that would ban certain research on tissues from aborted fetuses.

Supporters say the bill would protect against profiteering from, and an improper reliance on, fetal remains, while opponents say there is no profiteering and there are humane reasons to use tissues for bettering the health of all.

The fetal tissue bill failed to pass last year, but Repbulican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch said the measure now has stronger backing from Assembly Republican leadership and stands a better chance of passing.

In Congress, Republicans are seeking to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing any services to patients covered under the Medicaid health program.

Wisconsin Right to Life also would like to pursue legislation that would prohibit insurance coverage for state employees from covering abortion, Weininger said.

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