Feb. 1, Wisconsin state Republican legislators introduced a bill prohibiting abortions after the detection of a “fetal heartbeat.” A fetal heartbeat can be detected as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy, which is very early in the first trimester. Additionally, if an abortion were performed after six weeks, the bill allows any person who would have been related to the fetus to sue the physician who performed the procedure.
As it stands, the state does currently have the power to pass this bill. But the national Roe v. Wade decision would likely present problems further down the line if this bill were to make it through the Wisconsin Congress.
The Roe v. Wade decision holds that the state is not allowed to prohibit abortions throughout the first trimester of a pregnancy. In the second trimester, it becomes legal to regulate abortions only if the pregnancy affects the health of the mother. The state is also able to completely prohibit abortions in the third trimester, unless it presents an immediate danger to the mother’s health.
Thus, this bill would be in direct opposition to Roe v. Wade, meaning it could be brought to the courts and potentially overturned. The bill mirrors the Texas Heartbeat Act, which prohibits and criminalizes abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. A case against the Heartbeat Act, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson was brought to the Supreme Court in Nov.
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The Court determined the lawsuit could proceed if brought against state medical licensing officials but not state clerks or representatives. Essentially, the Court did not officially determine whether or not the law should be upheld in the state of Texas.
Another case on abortion that is still pending in the court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, questions the legality of a restrictive Mississippi abortion law.
As there are multiple Supreme Court cases to be heard on the subject of abortion, the state should not have the power to pass a bill of this caliber in the current political climate. Precedents on abortion should be firmly established prior to the passing of a bill in the state of Wisconsin. Regardless, Wisconsin should not be able to determine what a person can or cannot do with their own body.
In terms of abortion precedent, there has been no determined cut-off point at which abortion is prohibited.
Many agree that six weeks is far too early to for a person to reasonably determine that they are pregnant. Generally, pregnancy is determined from the date of the last period, meaning it takes a minimum of three to four weeks for someone to realize they have missed their period, take a test and evaluate options. This gives pregnant individuals only two weeks to schedule a consultation or abortion appointment before the 6-week mark, which is an astoundingly short time frame to make a life-altering decision.
There is another layer to the difficulty of six-week bans like the proposed Wisconsin bill. Though most people with uteri have a 28-day cycle, this is not accurate for everyone. A period cycle can range from 21-40 days, meaning individuals might not be able to determine if they have missed their period for an additional week, giving them only one week to schedule an abortion.
The decision on whether or not a person with uteri should get an abortion is meant to be a private conversation between that person and their doctor — not the state. Each pregnancy and each person’s body is different. A cut-off date determined by a governmental body with no knowledge of an individual’s situation is not sufficient enough for that person to determine if they are pregnant and decide if they need or desire an abortion.
If this bill were passed, it would not necessarily limit the number of abortions in Wisconsin, but it would certainly make it more dangerous for people to obtain one. A study found that between countries in which abortions are illegal versus countries where abortion is legal, abortion rates are incredibly similar.
But in countries where abortions are illegal, the processes are incredibly dangerous. The World Heath Organization found that about 45% of all abortions worldwide are unsafe and unsafe abortions are the leading cause of maternal deaths. The WHO states that having access to a safe abortion is a public health and human rights issue.
Laws banning abortion also have disproportionate effects on certain communities. For example, forcing a transgender man or non-gender conforming individual to carry a child to term, without the ability to receive an abortion, can cause intense gender dysphoria.
It is important to recognize my terminology on who these proposed abortion laws would affect. Women are not the only people impacted — all people with uteri, no matter what gender they identify as, can be harmed by these intense laws and lose freedoms at the hands of the government.
People of color are also disproportionately affected by abortion bans due to systemic racism in the healthcare system. Many low-income people of color rely on Medicaid, which does not cover the cost of an abortion. Not only this, but the maternal mortality rate for Black women is considerably higher than that of white women.
These are only a few of the groups disproportionately affected by restrictive abortion bans. Low-income, disabled or undocumented individuals are also more at risk when these laws are passed.
Restrictive abortion laws passed in other states have already encountered Supreme Court challenges due to their constitutionality. Additionally, these restrictive laws make it more dangerous and difficult for individuals with uteri to get abortions.
These are just a few of the effects a restrictive abortion bill, like the one proposed in the Wisconsin legislature, could have on people all over the state. If state legislators continue to give irresponsible and dangerous bills like this a platform, Roe v. Wade could face a serious national threat that bears far greater consequences for female health and individual freedom.
Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international relations and journalism.