Abortion at the Capitol

Republicans in the state legislature are expected to vote on a series of abortion bills this week.

The State Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 206 Tuesday, which would require physicians to perform or arrange for an ultrasound, except in a medical emergency or cases where the pregnancy is caused by sexual assault or incest. Physicians would have to show the ultrasound image to the woman and provide a thorough description of the fetus’ features.  A late amendment specifies the bill would not require an invasive transvaginal ultrasound even if a conventional ultrasound will not detect a heartbeat.

The bill also would require that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion would be performed.  Planned Parenthood says that requirement will force them to close their Appleton clinic because they cannot meet the 30 miles requirement.

Assuming the bill passes the Senate the Assembly is prepared to vote on that bill and possibly other abortion issues later this week.

The legislature did pass some abortion regulations in the 2011-12 session, but a number of proposals did not make it to the floor for a full vote.  Insiders at the Capitol have said that was because the threat of recalls in the Senate made leaders there wary of having members take votes on controversial issues before the recall elections.

In a typical two-year legislative cycle there is a special time and place to pass controversial legislation…the fall of the first year.  The first six months of each biennial session are usually dominated by the state budget and any other “jobs” type legislation.  The legislature is usually pretty quiet during the summer (few floor votes, mostly committee hearings) and they come back in the fall ready to pass all the things that weren’t a priority in the budget period.  Politicians don’t like to pass controversial items in the spring in an election year (even-numbered years) and they don’t work at all during the summer, fall and winter of an election year.

That only leaves the fall of non-election years for the controversial items, which is where most of these abortion bills were originally targeted in 2011.  But the recalls pushed them to this year, and with solid majorities in both houses and no protesters to be seen, the abortion bills are being passed even before the budget is finalized.

That gives Democrats another chance to make comments about the Republicans’ “laser-like focus on jobs,” but that won’t change the outcome of the votes.  Most of these bills have seen similar versions passed in other states in recent years and while the “war on women” and other women’s health issues were a big factor in the Presidential race last fall they don’t seem to have an impact in Wisconsin elections.

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