Despite passionate testimony against it, multiple amendments, and public protest in the state capitol building, Wisconsin’s AB 227 passed as written with a 56-39 vote Thursday evening. AB 227 is the state assembly version of SB 206, a fast-tracked forced ultrasound bill with a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) provision that would likely close the only northern Wisconsin abortion provider. The legislation will now head to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has promised to sign.
Reproductive rights supporters attempted to blunt the impact of the bill with a series of amendments that would have removed a hospital admitting privileges requirement from the legislation and softened the ultrasound requirement by allowing for rape and fetal anomaly exceptions. All amendments failed.
Anti-choice politicians have been fast-tracking abortion and birth control restriction bills in an effort to ensure their passage before too many members of the public have time to learn about the legislation, much less organize against it. But organize they did. During the legislative debate Thursday, a number of activists gathered on the balcony of the state assembly with tape over their mouths. As mother and activist Wendi Kent explained on Facebook:
I will be there with tape over my mouth to represent the fact that they are making my medical decisions for me without my consent or input. They are speaking as if they represent me when they do not. They are making decisions that hurt me, my daughters and all other Wisconsin women. We are being silenced. We are being ignored. We are being treated like mindless wombs.
After being told that the tape constituted “political display,” the group removed it and put their hands over their mouths instead. One member was ejected for clapping during a speech on the floor by an assembly member who opposed one of the restrictive new laws; she was removed from the chamber in handcuffs. Kent remained, her 10-day-old daughter strapped to her chest, and silently watched the testimony stretch into the evening.
“This is nothing new,” Kent told RH Reality Check, referring to the actions security personnel took to dissipate the protesters. “We’ve been dealing with rules made up on the spot and selective enforcement for years now. I don’t ever feel confident that our representatives across the aisle are affected by our actions. When they make jokes and laugh during these types of debates and bills, why should I think otherwise? I do, however, think that it encourages our Democratic representatives to continue to fight as hard as they do, even in cases of certain loss, as this one.”
“I would have liked to have seen more people in attendance when the bill was finally ruled upon,” said Kent, noting that by 8:30 p.m., when the vote came down, many of the activists had to leave the gallery. “I wish we had the entire gallery filled at that point to yell ‘Shame!’ at them, but it’s difficult to get people to listen to such awfulness for so many hours.”
The testimony on the floor did grow tense and emotional, as multiple state legislators shared their own abortion stories. “Women don’t want to go out and have abortions. These are not choices that we like,” said state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) after telling the story of an abortion that she underwent after learning she was likely to miscarry her pregnancy. “Some choices don’t belong to you.”
“If so many women on the assembly floor have personal stories, think about how many in Wisconsin do,” NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin reminded legislators on Twitter prior to the final vote.
Those personal stories, both told and untold, are in stark contrast to comments made Wednesday by state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), the bill’s sponsor. “These abortions became popular in the ’60s. It was almost the thing to do,” Lazich said in speech prior to the senate passage of the bill, which happened without debate. “You needed to get one of them to be a woman.”
SB 206 was just one of many anti-choice bills to be passed Thursday. Bills that also made it through the assembly include those that would ban supposed gender-selection abortions, allow religious employers to refuse to cover contraception in their insurance plans, and ban abortion coverage in all public employee insurance plans.
“While the public is focused on the budget, this Legislature is rushing to pass nearly every abortion or contraceptive-related restriction or regulation they did not already enact last session,” Jenni Dye, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Perhaps anti-choice legislators missed the memo in November 2012. Voters are tired of divisive attacks and want legislators to stop trying to send women backwards and instead work together on issues like jobs, education, and healthcare.”
She continued, “If legislators think that voters will forget what happened today before November 2014, they are mistaken. Women and our allies will remember.”