Planned Parenthood petitions Wisconsin Supreme Court to affirm right to abortion - TAI News
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Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin filed a petition on Feb. 22 asking the state Supreme Court to rule that a state law dating back to 1849 that has been interpreted as banning abortion is unconstitutional.

The petition asks the court to rule on whether Chapter 940, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Statutes, “if interpreted to prevent a person from obtaining an abortion in all circumstances except “to save the life of the mother,” violates the person’s inherent right to life and liberty guaranteed by Article I, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution, by unconstitutionally interfering with the person’s right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and self-determination—including the decision of whether and when to have a child.”

The statute says, “Any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony.”

Planned Parenthood’s petition is the second legal challenge to the 1849 law since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the federal constitutional affirmation of a right to abortion contained in the decision in Roe v. Wade

In June 2022, just four days after Roe was overturned, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion law.

In July 2023, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled that Kaul and Evers’ suit could proceed. Her ruling stated that the law used to ban the termination of a pregnancy applied only to an attack on a pregnant person for the purpose of killing a fetus, not to consensual abortion.

Schlipper’s ruling led Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin to resume abortion care in its Madison and Milwaukee clinics and, in December 2023, at its clinic in Sheboygan. The suit has remained in the lower courts. 

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin chief strategy officer Michelle Velasquez told the Wisconsin Independent: “This is really an issue of statewide importance. The people in this state need to know whether their state Constitution protects their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination and whether or not a statute like 940.04, if interpreted to ban abortion, would infringe on those rights. And that’s really a question for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Velasquez explained that cases must meet certain criteria for the Supreme Court to hear them without them first going through lower courts.

“It has to be an issue of statewide importance, which I think this undoubtedly is, and it ought to be a question about the liberties of people in the state. … If Statute 940.04 was interpreted to prevent a person from obtaining abortion in all circumstances and interpreted to prevent a physician from providing an abortion, we’re asking the court to really say whether or not that unconstitutionally interferes with the rights to bodily autonomy, integrity, and self-determination,” Velasquez said. 

Planned Parenthood’s petition names Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski and two other county district attorneys as respondents.

On Feb. 20, Urmanski filed a petition asking to bypass the appeals court and have the state Supreme Court review Schlipper’s ruling. 

If the high court agrees to bypass the appeals court, its 4-3 liberal majority would likely side with the lower court ruling.

Velasquez said that she agreed with what she guessed was Urmanski’s reasoning for filing the petition, that the case would end up with the Supreme Court and that having a lower court hear it first would simply result in needless delay.

“We are, of course, hopeful that the court takes it. We are asking that the court apply — if it does take it — the highest level of scrutiny to statutes that would purport to regulate abortion,” Velasquez said.

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The Wisconsin Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.