Wisconsin anti-abortion groups call on DAs in Dane, Milwaukee counties to prosecute abortion doctors

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, speaks at a news conference in the state Capitol in Madison calling on district attorneys in Milwaukee and Dane counties to enforce the state's near total abortion ban. She was joined by representatives of anti-abortion groups Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life after Planned Parenthood's announcement it was resuming abortion services at its Milwaukee and Madison clinics.

MADISON – Officials with Wisconsin's three largest anti-abortion groups on Tuesday called on district attorneys in Dane and Milwaukee counties to prosecute doctors who provide abortions, a little over a week after Planned Parenthood resumed those services.

Advocates on each side of the issue disagree on whether abortion is currently legal in Wisconsin following a July court order signaling a Dane County judge believes an 1849 law that has been interpreted as a near-total ban on abortion does not, in fact, ban consensual abortions.

Abortions had been unavailable in Wisconsin for more than a year until Planned Parenthood began scheduling appointments for its Madison and Milwaukee clinics on Sept. 14. The move brought the service back to two of three clinics where it had been available before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions in the U.S. for 50 years before it was struck down in 2022.

In a Tuesday news conference at the state Capitol, Pro-Life Wisconsin state director Dan Miller accused Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin of "break(ing) the law" and "getting away with it."

"'The respective DAs in Milwaukee and Madison have said that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, as well as the DAs, are apparently above the law, that the rule of law has no meaning for them," said Wisconsin Family Action president Julaine Appling. "They get to pick and choose, according to their political and personal ideological positions, what laws they will enforce."

Both Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm have said they would not prosecute those who seek or provide abortions. Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski has said he would enforce violations of the 1849 law. In an email Tuesday, Ozanne said his position has not changed. A message to Chisholm did not receive an immediate response.

"Now is not the time to be selective in which laws we enforce and which laws we don't enforce in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Right to Life executive director Heather Weininger told reporters.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, medication abortions were available at Planned Parenthood's Sheboygan clinic. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin associate medical director Dr. Allison Linton told reporters earlier this month the organization will continue to work to expand access in the coming weeks, with the goal of eventually resuming services at the Sheboygan clinic.

More: Planned Parenthood's endgame: Get courts to affirm abortion right in Wisconsin Constitution

A Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin spokeswoman said Tuesday there is "no timeline" for when the organization will provide abortions again in Sheboygan.

Officials with Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin told reporters Tuesday they found it "interesting" that Planned Parenthood's initial efforts to resume abortion services have been limited to the two counties whose district attorneys have publicly vowed not to prosecute. Linton told reporters earlier this month the decision not to immediately resume in Sheboygan was based on staffing and resources, not the district attorney.

"Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin follows all applicable laws and regulations in providing all of its healthcare services. Wis. Stat. 940.04 is not applicable to abortion care. There is nothing to enforce," Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin director of legal advocacy Michelle Velasquez said in a statement.

Michelle Velasquez, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's director of legal advocacy and services
Michelle Velasquez, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's director of legal advocacy and services

Proponents of abortion access sued to invalidate the 19th century-era abortion law that became the center of Wisconsin politics during the 2022 midterms and the spring Supreme Court race.

On July 7, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit from Urmanski, who argued in May that Attorney General Josh Kaul, who brought the lawsuit, was asking a judge to perform the duties of lawmakers and was ignoring the fact that lawmakers have put forward language to repeal the original abortion law and decided against passing it.

Schlipper in the July 7 order said doctors deserve an answer to which abortion-related state law they should follow now that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, putting back into effect laws in Wisconsin that were dormant under the 50-year decision.

The judge also signaled she did not believe the law in question applies to abortions but to feticide.

"There is no such thing as an '1849 Abortion Ban' in Wisconsin. A physician who performs a consensual medical abortion commits a crime only 'after the fetus or unborn child reaches viability …'" she wrote, explicitly adding the law does not prohibit consensual medical abortions.

The lawsuit remains active in Dane County Circuit Court. It could eventually make its way to the state Supreme Court, which as of last month has a 4-3 liberal majority.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin anti-abortion groups call on DAs to prosecute doctors