Whenever one party controls the Legislature and the executive is of the other party and is up for re-election, the party in the Legislature will use the spring session to pass a flurry of bills designed to establish political positions for the election and communicate their policy priorities to the electorate. This year is no different. With Democrat Gov. Tony Evers vying for re-election later this year, the Republican- led Legislature is using the legislative session to stake their ground on election reform, taxes, education reform, etc. with the full expectation that Evers will veto their efforts.
Disturbingly, with the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to rule on two cases that could improve legal protections for babies by reversing or refining the appalling Roe v. Wade ruling, the Republican Legislature is bottling up a bill in committee that would prohibit abortions after the baby’s heartbeat is detectable. While Evers would certainly veto the bill, it would tell voters what Republicans would do to reshape the state’s abortion laws should the Supreme Court return that responsibility to the states.
By state law, abortions are illegal in Wisconsin, but that state law was invalidated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. If the court completely reverses that decision — an unlikely, but possible scenario — abortions in Wisconsin could become completely illegal overnight in Wisconsin. While that would be a happy outcome for thousands and thousands of children, it is unlikely that in a politically divided state like Wisconsin that such a prohibition would stand for long. The Legislature and governor would act to adjust Wisconsin’s abortion laws to the new legal reality somewhere within the broad boundaries that are defined by the political and cultural landscape. We know what the Democrats would do. Given the power, they would lift as many restrictions on abortions as possible. We have seen in other states where Democrats are passing laws allowing abortions up to the point that it becomes infanticide. Pro-life Democrats have long since been purged from the party and there are few members left to moderate the leftist dogma when it comes to abortion.
What would Republicans do? Would they fight to keep abortions completely illegal in Wisconsin? That seems unlikely. Where would they draw the line?
The fetal heartbeat bill is one such line. The bill is modeled after the Texas law that went into effect last year. The law is being considered by the Supreme Court, but was allowed to go into effect, signaling that the court may sanction it permanently. The law prohibits an abortion provider from providing an abortion once a heartbeat is detected. This is usually around six weeks after conception.
In order to negotiate around the arbitrary strictures of Roe v. Wade, the Texas law turns over enforcement for the law to the civil courts. It allows private citizens to sue abortion providers if they violate the law. This dubious legal mechanism is troubling, but effective. September of 2021 was the first full month that the Texas law was in effect and the only month for which data is available so far. The data shows that there was a 60% decline in abortions in Texas from August to September. There are anecdotal reports of some Texas women crossing into other states to obtain later-term abortions, but the strong initial evidence is that many women chose to take their children to term. Those are a lot of children who will be able to live full lives instead of having been snuffed out before breathing their first breath.
The question remains, what will Wisconsin’s Republicans do? Some of them are ardently pro-life. Some of them talk a good game at Republican events but do little. Some of them might be pro-abortion, which is their right, but they should be honest about it. Every person has a line at which they think an abortion is appropriate and permissible. They also have a line at which an abortion is abhorrent.
Given the very high likelihood that the Supreme Court will force the hand of state politicians to rewrite their state abortion laws for a new legal reality, what would the Republicans do in Wisconsin? If they would not draw the line at a baby’s heartbeat, where would they draw the line?
This is a question of life and death that the Republicans must answer before the next election. Their answer must be more than more empty pap at a rubber-chicken dinner. Their answer must have the force and detail of a bill that is passed by their legislative caucuses. How pro-life is the Republican Party of Wisconsin when they can’t hide behind a federal court ruling? Hopefully we will find out soon and babies will be able to live with the answer.
Everything but tech support.