Wisconsin: Confusion Over Abortion Rights in the Badger State

It seems that we must be past the midway point in our journey through the legal status of reproductive care and abortion in the various US states. We’re taking this journey, here on The Pulse, because of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision on the Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case, this past June. The Dobbs case concerned Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, written to prohibit all abortions subsequent to 15 weeks gestation, with very few exceptions. Along with upholding the Mississippi law with a 6-3 majority, the SCOTUS used the case to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, with a 5-4 majority. This means that SCOTUS no longer agrees that the US Constitution, by way of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protects privacy in a way that should prevent all states from prohibiting abortion. Consequently, the United States is now a patchworl of astonishingly different laws when it comes to reproduction and abortion in particular, although pregnancy care itself is suffering in some states as a result, and antiabortion politicians and activists also have fertility treatment and even contraception in their crosshairs.

Ironically, Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that caused the overturning of Roe did not even go into effect, because the state already had a trigger law that took precedence, banning abortion throughout pregnancy, rather than just beyond 15 weeks. Other US states, such as Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, and Missouri, also are extremely hostile to the right to choose. Other states, such as New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington have been extremely supportive of abortion rights, making efforts help out-of-state abortion seekers. There also are in between states, such as Florida, where you can have an abortion up through the 15th week, but even that right stands on shaky ground that depends a lot on outcomes of the November election (which may have taken place by the time that this post publishes). Interestingly, there are some states in which abortion rights are being upheld, despite strong majorities of anti-choice Republican politicians in the state legislatures and governors, because of either the state constitution or the court system. Such states include Kansas, Alaska, Montana, and Ohio. In Kansas, despite its strong Republican leanings and active anti-abortion politicians and organizations, the people out and voted strongly on a ballet measure in favor of keeping a guarantee of the right to choose in the Kansas state Constitution.

There also are states in which the situation is quite confusing. These states include some of those mentioned already, such as Tennessee, where the official law allows abortion to save a mother’s life, but requires that abortion providers try to keep the fetus or embryo that they’re aborting alive, which makes no sense. There also are states, such as Arizona, that have allowed very old laws against abortion to go into effect in the wake of Dobbs. Wisconsin, our highlighted state today, fits into both of these categories as Dobbs has triggered a Wisconsin abortion ban, passed in the year 1849, to go into effect.

As the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, the Badger State, has explained, along with a host of other leaders, such a law is not enforcible. Both the Wisconsin court system and politics are coming into play and the November 8 election could make a difference, one way or another. We may have an outcome and know something more by the time that this post publishes, if that happens after the election. In the meantime, given the uncertainty and the threats, most abortion services in Wisconsin have shut down for now. This means that the best option is to travel out-of-state, either for a medication abortion, which is available up to 77 days (11 weeks) gestation, or for a procedural abortion. Given that things are not really decided, it’s possible that you can obtain abortion care through telemedicine and receive medication by mail to undergo a medication abortion. However, the easier option would be to travel. If you live in the southern part of Wisconsin, where most of the state’s population resides, the Chicago area, in Illinois is a good option for you. Chicago is an extremely popular destination for abortion seekers, which could become an issue, but it’s also a metropolitan area where abortion services are abundant. Meanwhile, those residing in the northern, western areas of Wisconsin have the option of traveling to Minnesota, which is also abortion-safe and is welcoming abortion seekers from out-of-state.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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