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Why medical care could be criminally prosecuted under Wisconsin’s abortion law of 1849 | WUWM 89.7 FM

The End of Roe c. Wade plunged much of the United States into a state of confusion and legal limbo. In Wisconsin, an 1849 law making nearly all abortions illegal is likely in effect. Abortion care is no longer available in the state, and although there is an exemption for abortions that save the mother’s life, the limits of this exemption are unclear. As a result, doctors may choose to err on the side of caution and let pregnant women die instead of risking criminal prosecution by saving them.

The law predates the discovery of germs, ultrasounds, and our modern understanding of fetal development. He defines abortion as anything that voluntarily ends the life of an unborn child, which he defines as beginning at conception and ending with a live birth. This could mean that many forms of birth control are illegal under this law, including IUDs, the morning after pill, birth control pills, and other forms of hormonal birth control that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. This concept was unknown at the time of writing this law.

Gov. Tony Evers called for a special session to address the law, but the Republican-controlled legislature took no action — kicking in and out of session without discussion.

For clarification on what this law could mean for pregnant women in Wisconsin, Barbara Zabawa, an attorney and assistant clinical professor at UW-Milwaukee for the College of Health Sciences, shares more.

“In Wisconsin, the abortion law that dates back to 1849 is a criminal statute that basically punishes doctors who intentionally destroy the life of an unborn child. There is one exception, therapeutic abortions that are performed out of necessity. medical and which must be carried out by a doctor in a maternity ward unless there is an emergency,” explains Zabawa.

Zabawa explains that abortions for rape or incest are not permitted by law.

Prescribing abortion pills would also be against the old law and Zabawa wonders if this could challenge the distribution of contraceptives overall. Although the ambiguity of the law leaves many questions about the legality of different birth control methods, health organizations, including Planned Parenthood, continue to offer access to all forms of birth control.

Because the law targets doctors, Zabawa says doctors can choose to avoid potentially facing criminal exposure. “There will definitely be hesitation from healthcare providers who are particularly risk-averse,” Zabawa says.

“The Supreme Court said, well, the life of the fetus is as important if not more than the life of the mother, so if you can still keep the fetus alive and let the life of the mother go, then I guess that’s fine. They made policy in a In fact, that’s what Supreme Court decisions do, that is, they make policy, whether they want to see it as an outcome or not. “, she says.

Considering what situations could determine whether an abortion would save the mother’s life, Zabawa says the law is unclear. For example, a pregnant person who needs cancer treatment may not be able to receive treatment if it could harm the fetus. In turn, risking the life of the pregnant person. Zabawa says it’s unclear if they should be actively dying to get a legal abortion under the law.

Gov. Tony Evers said he would offer clemency to anyone convicted under the 1849 abortion law and would not appoint district attorneys to enforce the ban. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm signed a statement along with dozens of other prosecutors across the country, pledging not to criminalize abortion in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Zabawa says she hopes Wisconsin prosecutors release a statement on the matter to help clarify and reduce uncertainty about the state of the law.

“So much depends on this 50-year story of Roe vs. Wade, that we don’t really realize the full effect of this decision and all the things that go with it. It may matter even to people who were in in favor of removing abortion as a right. They might be surprised to learn other things that could potentially be affected,” says Zabawa.

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