Dr. Kristin Lyerly: "This is just a sneaky way of implementing a personhood law in the state." - TAI News
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Protesters make their way to the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda during a march supporting overturning Wisconsin’s near total ban on abortion on Jan. 22, 2023, in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

The four bills already have received support from anti-abortion groups, including one associated with an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Rebekah Sager

On May 30, five Wisconsin Republican state lawmakers sent a package of four bills to their colleagues in the legislature hoping for their support. The Christian right group Wisconsin Family Action, associated with the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, issued a press release expressing support for the “Embrace Them Both” package. The bills give a tax break to a fetus and allocate money for “crisis pregnancy centers” and adoption organizations. 

The group’s president said the bills embody “what we have always said being pro-life means—recognizing that human life begins at conception and that pregnant women often need support. These four bills encompass important aspects of the life issue from different perspectives.” 

According to a poll taken last year, voters in Wisconsin have expressed overwhelmingly a desire to repeal the state’s current abortion ban. 

The state’s current abortion law, which took effect in June 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, makes it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy except when the pregnant person could die. The law dates back to 1849. 

With the support of Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the state’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul joined a group of physicians to file a lawsuit to block the ban just days after Roe was overturned, the Associated Press reported. In early May, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper heard arguments regarding a motion to dismiss the suit, but has yet to make a ruling, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The suit argues that the archaic law conflicts with a more recent law enacted in the state in 1985 that allows for abortion care up until the time that the fetus is viable outside of the uterus.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly, an OB-GYN who practiced in Wisconsin until Roe v. Wade was overturned, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the state’s current abortion ban. She tells the American Independent Foundation, “I cannot name a single person who I’ve talked to who thinks it’s a great idea to have politicians making their health care decisions for them.” 

Lyerly adds, “They’re seeking to do this because they’re backtracking on bad, unpopular policy, versus what I’m trying to do is take care of my patients and make sure that my patients have the freedom to make their own decisions within the context of their own lives.” 

Lyerly, who now practices obstetric care in rural Minnesota, explains that the pre-Civil War abortion law has been vague from its inception: 

It criminalizes physicians for practicing what really is standard health care. … I mean, think about what health care was like in 1849. There were no pregnancy tests. We didn’t even know that germs caused disease back in 1849. This was before the Civil War, 70 years before women could even vote. So medicine was very different back then.

Another anti-abortion group, Pro-Life Wisconsin, said in its own press release, “Abortion, statutorily defined as the intentional killing of a preborn living human being, is never medically necessary to save the life or improve the health of the mother.” It said that one of the four bills included in the “Embrace Them Both” package, LRB-2792, “clarifies that medical procedures intended to save the life of a pregnant mother, and not intended to kill her preborn baby, are not abortions. Such procedures include medical emergency early induction or C-section, removal of a miscarriage, or removal of an ectopic, molar, or anembryonic pregnancy.”

According to Pro-Life Wisconsin, “LRB-2486 increases the current state income tax exemption for dependents from $700 to $1000 and extends the coverage to preborn children whose fetal heartbeat has been detected. Designating the preborn child a ‘dependent’ provides substantial tax savings to growing families and recognizes him/her as a ‘person’ deserving of public benefits.” 

The term “fetal heartbeat” is used by anti-abortion groups for electrical activity in a fetus, detectable at around six weeks’ gestation, and often when a person is not aware that they are pregnant. Doctors say that the term is misleading. Dr. Jennifer Kerns told NPR in 2022: “What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.” 

Lyerly says:

This is just a sneaky way of implementing a personhood law in the state. And they use everyone’s favorite tool, which is a tax advantage. Everybody loves to pay fewer taxes. It’s cheap. It’s deceitful. And we’ve seen it in other states. … It’s just so sneaky and rotten and painful. By giving a fetus personhood, you are actually taking away the pregnant person’s personhood.

Republicans in other states have used similar tactics to try to make extreme abortion bans more palatable. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the “Life Act” into law in July 2022, giving Georgians a $3,000 dependent tax credit for an unborn child. In June 2019, Kemp signed the six-week abortion ban into law. It went into effect when Roe was overturned. 

According to Pro-Life Wisconsin, another of the bills, LRB-2918, would require $5 million in grants be awarded every other year to an adoption care organization. 

Another bill in the package — LRB-2445 — according to the anti-abortion group, “requires the Department of Health Services to award a $1 million annual grant to Choose Life Wisconsin, Inc. to assist the non-profit organization in providing grants to pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) across Wisconsin.” Such centers work to dissuade pregnant people from having abortions.

Lyerly says she always talks about adoption with her patients. 

“Adoption is not just something that you make a decision and you’re done with it. It is a complicated road, and I think many people recognize that. But if we have more support for people, more nonjudgmental, objective support for people who are pursuing adoption, I think that’s a great idea,” Lyerly says. 

She adds: 

Crisis pregnancy centers do not offer objective, full-spectrum reproductive care. … They’re a scam that’s put together to trick you into keeping a pregnancy. … This is not where our funding needs to go. Our funding needs to go to upstream solutions, things that help to build the social determinants of health that create our lives, things like paid family leave, like expanding Medicaid in the state. …The postpartum period lasts up to a year, and two-thirds of the deaths related to pregnancy happen in the postpartum period. Ninety percent of those deaths are preventable, yet we take away people’s health care coverage. … Black women are five times more likely than white women to die in Wisconsin related to pregnancy. It’s twice the national average.

Current Wisconsin laws only allow people to remain on Medicaid postpartum for 60 days. In February, Gov. Evers included a proposal to extend postpartum coverage to 12 months, but the Republican-led legislature has indicated that it will reject Evers’ entire budget plan. 

Four out of 10 births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid. 

Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference have also endorsed the bills.

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