Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants To Give Family Members The Power To Step In And Prevent An Abortion

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Wisconsin State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), one of his state’s most outspoken conservatives, is currently pressuring his colleagues to revive several anti-abortion bills that stalled at the end of last year’s legislative session. He wants to Senate to immediately schedule a floor vote on two measures to restrict women’s access to abortion — including one that could actually empower a woman’s parents or in-laws to step in and stop her from choosing to end a pregnancy.

The provision in question appears within Assembly Bill 217, a measure that seeks to ban so-called “sex-selective” abortions even though there’s no real evidence of this practice actually occurring in the United States. This week, the progressive blog Uppity Wisconsin pointed out that the measure could have much more serious consequences than simply attempting to legislate a nonexistent issue. That’s because AB 217 provides “injunctive relief” for relatives — defined as a woman’s husband, parents, or in-laws — who suspect she’s having an abortion specifically to discriminate against a fetus’ gender:

A court may issue an order enjoining a person from performing an abortion contrary to s. 253.103. If the person violates the terms of the injunction, the court shall adjudge the person in civil contempt of the order and shall impose a civil penalty against the person for contempt in an amount of $10,000 for a first violation, $50,000 for a 2nd violation, and $100,000 for a 3rd and for each subsequent violation and may grant any other relief the court determines is just and proper in the circumstances. For the purpose of this paragraph, each time a person performs a sex-selective abortion after being enjoined from doing so, he or she commits a violation of the terms of the injunction.

There’s some question about whether this provision is actually referring to the legal options available to family members after an abortion has already occurred. An analysis from the Legislative Reference Bureau published along with the full text of AB 217 concludes that the legislation would allow relatives to sue the abortion doctor for “emotional damages” resulting from an abortion, and to seek an injunction preventing the doctor from performing the same procedure for other women.

But the language is vague, and Grothman himself disagrees with the Legislative Reference Bureau’s interpretation. He told Opposing Views that “the analysis is in error” and he believes family members could intervene to prevent an abortion under his bill. “I believe if you read the bill they can do that,” the state senator said.

Regardless of the timing of the injunction, Grothman’s bill threatens to make abortion doctors into targets. The section regarding “appropriate relief” for family members notes that “this subsection applies even if the person or if the mother of the child consented to the performance of the sex-selective abortion.” That essentially provides an opening for anti-choice individuals to go after abortion doctors, suing them for thousands of dollars or forcing them to halt their practice, even if none of the doctors’ patients actually object to the medical care they received. The bill doesn’t specify how one of those family members would go about proving an abortion was actually motivated by gender bias — a particularly tall order considering that 92 percent of abortions take place before the fetus’ gender can even be determined.

AB 217 has already passed the General Assembly, but hasn’t yet come up for a vote in Wisconsin’s GOP-dominated Senate. Grothman’s fellow lawmakers are indicating that they don’t have the appetite to push for more abortion restrictions — a position that has frustrated Grothman, who recently circulated a press release accusing his colleagues of being in Planned Parenthood’s “vise-like grip.”