Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Advocates join together to oppose bill

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates joined together at a public hearing last Thursday to oppose a bill that would apply homicide charges to incidents of fetal death caused by illegal substances.

The contentious measure, Assembly Bill 994, seeks to prosecute women whose use of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs leads to the death of their unborn babies.

Both Wisconsin Right to Life and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin testified against AB 994 at the Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing last week, each calling the bill a threat to unborn babies but for varying reasons.


"It's a terrible piece of public policy," WRTL Legislative Director Susan Armacost said. "It would encourage people to get abortions."

Armacost added women would be afraid of the possible homicide charges and would choose instead to exercise their right to have a legal abortion.

The PPAWI agreed the bill, authored by Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, would endanger fetuses, but presented a different logic.

According to Chris Taylor, political director for the PPAWI, AB 994 fails to take into account women who are addicted to controlled substances.

"To incarcerate a woman who is a drug addict and pregnant doesn't do anything to facilitate the treatment that she needs," Taylor said. "Nor does it do anything to facilitate her access to prenatal care, which is what she needs to have a healthy baby."

Additionally, Taylor raised concerns regarding the bill's dangerously broad language.

The bill offers a second provision that applies drug-trafficking charges to pregnant women using illegal substances, according to Taylor, who added AB 994 could punish women who aren't even pregnant by defining a fetus as a fertilized egg.

"This bill is just so broad that really any woman having sex could have a fertilized egg … and could be convicted of delivering a controlled substance," Taylor said.

Pettis, however, views his legislation as a key effort to combat irresponsible mothers who know they are pregnant.

"The mother who uses methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin has already chosen to be an unfit mother," Pettis said. "When you have a knowingly pregnant mother take illegal drugs … that results in the death of the baby, shouldn't there be some consequences?"

According to Pettis, AB 994 was inspired by an incident from his district in which the district attorney was not able to prosecute a woman who gave birth to a dead baby.

"From the response that I've gotten, people are fed up with mothers taking illegal drugs that end up killing their babies and not suffering any consequences," Pettis added.

Armacost countered such extreme punitive measures are not always the proper recourse.

"It's out of anger and frustration that [AB 994 is] being put out there, and that's not the way we should be reacting to these terrible societal problems," she said.

While both WRTL and PPAWI demonstrated staunch opposition to the bill, Pro-Life Wisconsin testified at the hearing in support, agreeing with Pettis that the legislation would prove a step in the right direction.

"All Rep. Pettis is trying to do here [is] he's trying to take a step toward restoring full legal protection for unborn victims of violence," Pro-Life Wisconsin Legislative Affairs Director Matt Sande said.

Sande said WRTL's argument was baseless and unfounded, adding it is illogical to "permit an evil to prevent an evil."

While AB 994 opponents and supporters continue to argue the measure's value, Pettis remains hopeful the bill will gain committee approval.

The bill is expected to go into a committee executive session soon, after which it will face an Assembly vote.

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