MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly Republicans sought to approve a trio of bills Thursday aimed at making it more difficult to get abortions in Wisconsin, joining a new conservative drive to impose tougher restrictions on the procedure nationwide.
One would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The bill's chief Assembly sponsor, Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, said that's crucial because a provider should be able to follow a woman to a hospital if something goes wrong during the procedure.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin contends the bill is designed to shut down its clinic in Appleton, forcing women to travel to Madison, Milwaukee or out of state to obtain abortions. Planned Parenthood policy director Nicole Safar said none of that clinic's providers have admitting privileges within 30 miles.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said during a news conference Thursday that Planned Parenthood should have known this bill was coming for months and had its providers prepare.
"If this is inherent on your business model being successful, I would presume they already began this process early in the year assuming there was at least a chance this bill would pass," Vos said.
Safar said her organization learned of the bill when it was introduced two weeks ago. She said she doubts the Appleton providers would be able to get admitting privileges quickly enough to keep the clinic open.
"We're trying to problem-solve as it's being rammed through the Legislature," she said.
The proposal also would force a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. The technician would have to display an image of the fetus as well as describe its size, visible internal organs and external features to the woman.
Abortion opponents say making the woman view the ultrasound will help her bond with the fetus and decide to save it, sparing her years of regret and guilt. Critics say the plan is an attack on a woman's ability to choose an abortion.
Republicans who control the state Senate passed the bill Wednesday. Assembly approval would send the measure to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The governor has said he supports the bill, saying most people believe a woman should get an ultrasound ahead of an abortion.
Another bill would prohibit the use of public money to cover abortions in public employees' health insurance plans. The measure's chief sponsor, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said taxpayers shouldn't subsidize abortions.
The plan also would exempt religious organizations from having to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.
The third bill would prohibit abortions based solely on whether the fetus is male or female. Chief sponsor Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, told reporters other countries are having problems with people aborting female fetuses to increase male births and he wants to make such abortions tougher to get in Wisconsin.
The last two bills would go next to the Senate. Republican leaders in that house say they're focused on passing the state budget and might not take them up until fall. Walker has said he supports those bills as well, calling them "fairly reasonable."
Republicans control the Assembly, making passage all but certain. Assembly Democrats protested the bills nonetheless, calling them an assault on women's rights.
"Shame on you for legislating other women's choices," Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said as debate began Thursday afternoon.
North Dakota's governor, Republican Jack Dalrymple, signed a law in March that outlaws abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy or when a fetal heartbeat is detected, making North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation to get an abortion. The law is based on a theory that a fetus can feel pain at that point of the pregnancy, but research is split on the notion.
Dalrymple also signed laws that same month that made North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects and genetic selection and to impose hospital-admitting requirements on providers.
Also in March, Arkansas' Republican-led Legislature passed a law that bans most abortions after 12 weeks. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights have won a preliminary injunction blocking the law in federal court, however, arguing it's unconstitutional and contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That ruling legalized abortion until a fetus could survive outside the womb.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, signed a bill in April that blocked tax breaks for abortion providers, banned sex-selective abortions and declared life begins at fertilization. And the U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
A federal court in May overturned a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona, saying the law violated a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable. Viability is generally considered to start at
24 weeks. Some nine other states have enacted similar bans and have faced court challenges.
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