On Roe’s 51st anniversary, VP Harris visits Wisconsin as GOP lawmakers introduce a new abortion ban

Election 2024 Biden Harris Abortion

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 7, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Big Bend, Wis. Harris is embracing her position as the Democrats' leading champion for abortion rights in this year's election. Harris visits Wisconsin on Monday for the first in a series of nationwide events focused on abortion, which remains politically potent almost two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

By Pat Kreitlow

January 23, 2024

Gov. Tony Evers is likely to veto any abortion limit proposal, but VP Kamala Harris told a Waukesha audience how the bill shows what’s at stake this November.

The contrast in Wisconsin could not have been more clear on Monday’s anniversary of the now-repealed Roe v. Wade. In Madison, Assembly Republicans advanced a bill that could lead to a 14-week abortion ban. In Waukesha County, Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a nationwide tour, pointing to the proposal as further proof that Wisconsin voters are likely once again to determine a presidential election and with it, the future of women’s healthcare rights. 

Speaking at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades district office in Big Bend, Harris slammed former President Donald Trump for saying he is “proud” of his role in appointing three of the conservative US Supreme Court justices who overturned the 1973 Roe decision in June 2022.

“Proud that women across our nation are suffering?” said Harris. “Proud that women have been robbed of a fundamental freedom? That doctors could be thrown in prison for caring for patients? That young women today have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers? How dare he?”

Since becoming vice president, Harris has made five appearances in Wisconsin—a key state that is wrestling with a key campaign issue with national implications. Prior to her speech, Harris met privately with health care providers and families that have been affected by the legal back-and-forth over Wisconsin’s abortion restrictions.

Harris also called out Wisconsin Republicans who on Monday held  a hearing in the state Capitol on a bill that would create a binding statewide referendum on whether abortion should be banned after 14 weeks of pregnancy. Harris called the bill’s supporters “extremists” for not including exceptions for victims of rape and incest in the proposed legislation.

The bill’s author, Rep. Amanda Nedweski (R-Pleasant Prairie), was asked in Monday’s committee hearing why she did not include rape and incest exceptions, according to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Nedweski responded that 14 weeks after “probable fertilization” was “enough time” for them to know that they are pregnant and make a decision about the rest of their pregnancy. 

Dr. Kristin Lyerly, an obstetrician-gynecologist, told UpNorthNews Radio the language about girls and women being 14 weeks past “probable fertilization” has no basis in medicine.

“There is no medical significance,” Lyerly said, “especially with this ban in particular, because if you read the text, it’s based on post-fertilization age, which is not a medical term. We don’t exactly know with most pregnancies when fertilization occurs, so that introduces ambiguity into what 14 weeks even means.”

Current Wisconsin law bans abortion after fetal viability, usually around 23-24 weeks, which was the standard in Roe before it was struck down.

“We have a strong contingency of legislators here in Wisconsin who want to ban abortion, even for rape and incest. They truly believe that if someone is supposed to die related to a pregnancy, that that’s God’s will. These are the people who are making decisions for us here in Wisconsin right now,” Lyerly said.

Nedweski defended her standard by casting doubt on rape and incest victims who may not know for several weeks that they have been made pregnant by their attacker.

“I’m not going to debate the science of biology here,” Nedweski said, “but as a mother, and having known people who thought they didn’t know they were pregnant, I have a really hard time believing that somebody who doesn’t know they’re pregnant at 14 weeks wants to know. Maybe they just don’t want to know.”

While Assembly Republicans scheduled a hearing on the proposed 14-week ban to coincide with Roe’s 51st anniversary, their bill faces hurdles with fellow conservatives inside and outside the Capitol. State  Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said last week it would be difficult to get his caucus to coalesce around an abortion bill that Gov. Tony Evers would likely veto. And both Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life oppose the bill and are instead asking  an appeals court to rule that an 1849 state law amounts to a full ban on abortion. A Dane County judge has ruled the law does not apply to elective abortions.

Back in Washington, the White House is ratcheting up its focus on abortion rights as a campaign issue. Biden convened a meeting of his reproductive health care access task force to discuss threats to emergency care and new steps for implementing executive orders on the subject. He described Roe as “a fundamental right” that had been “ripped away.”

Days before her Wisconsin appearance, Harris previewed the themes of her speaking tour during a taping of The View on ABC.

“One does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree that the government should not be telling her what to do with her body,” Harris said. “If she chooses, she will talk with her priest, her pastor, her rabbi, her imam. But the government, in this year of our Lord 2024, the government should not be telling women what to do with their bodies.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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