In a move that would make all forms of abortion illegal, including in cases of rape and incest, Wisconsin Republicans recently proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would extend the definition of personhood to include embryos.
According to the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis of the bill, this amendment would change the constitution’s language from “all people are born equally free and independent” to “all people are equally free and independent.”
The bill would also change the definition of “person” to include every human being at any stage of development. The constitutional amendment will require approval by both houses of the Legislature and ratification by the state’s citizens before it could become effective.
Mississippi recently attempted to pass a similar amendment in early November, but the proposal was defeated in a vote by its citizens. Ohio, Nevada and California have also filed petitions to include personhood amendments on 2012 ballots.
The bill’s author, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Bellevue, said he and supporters had enlisted attorneys to draft a bill that would serve to protect the unborn, the same purpose as the legislation in Mississippi.
“This is really about getting the issue out there and having a discussion,” Jacque said. “Right now there is some division within the pro-life ranks as far as what the best strategy is to proceed with and ensuring protection for the unborn.”
Jacque said he and the other authors of the bill were working on the amendment long before Mississippi’s bill went to a vote. According to Jacque, he did not look at Mississippi’s language while drafting the amendment.
Jacque added he hoped to start a dialogue within Wisconsin similar to those introduced in Mississippi.
“If you look at Mississippi, it had the support of both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the ballot at the same time,” Jacque said. “So it’s something that can cut across party lines. It’s not something I’m looking at for this current legislative session as much as starting that discussion and building toward the future.”
University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden said it is unusual that the legislation would be up for consideration in the state after recently failing in Mississippi.
“It is remarkable that this bill would be introduced in Wisconsin given its recent defeat in Mississippi, a more conservative state,” Burden said. “The Republican majority in the Legislature also vowed to stay away from social issues and to focus on the economy.”
Rep. Jacque addressed the criticism of the promise to address economic matters before social issues, saying he can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
According to Jacque, he has around 30 bills currently working their way through the legislative process.
“You can argue that anything that doesn’t relate to whatever legislative ‘box’ you want to create is extraneous,” Jacque said.
According to Burden, the bill has a long way to go before the issue appears on any state ballot, saying it would first have to be approved twice by the Legislature and then by the voters before it would effectively change the constitution.
He added the last time this kind of issue was up for debate was with a ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.