The State of Wisconsin’s Medical Examining Board (MEB) is one of the parties filing an action in Dane County Circuit Court requesting a declaratory judgement that the state’s original abortion law is no longer valid. While the state’s original abortion law was first passed in 1849, subsequent actions by the state legislature created new abortion laws differing from the 19th century version. The legal filing asks the court to declare that Wis. Stat. § 940.04 “has been superseded and cannot be enforced as applied to abortions.”
The crux of the argument behind the petition: when the state legislature passed new abortion laws after the U.S. Supreme Court rendered their Roe and Casey decisions (in 1973 and 1992, respectively), those enactments superseded any application of the 19th century law, which includes a criminal penalty when an abortion is performed in all cases other than “to save the life of the mother.” These newer laws allowed physicians to provide post-conception abortions in certain circumstances without triggering a criminal penalty, such as an abortion provided before the point of viability, or post-viability abortions if necessary to “preserve the life or health of the woman” (Wis. Stat. § 940.15).
The MEB (an entity wholly separate from the Wisconsin Medical Society) is tasked with investigating Wisconsin-licensed physicians who are alleged to have violated any state law substantially related to the practice of medicine to determine if any potential administrative action should be taken on that license. The two sets of conflicting statutes prompted the petition’s plea for clarity: “Either it is lawful to provide a pre-viability abortion, or it is not,” the petition reads. “Either it is lawful to provide an abortion to preserve the mother’s health, or it is not. These are exactly the circumstances where courts hold that the older law may not be enforced – particularly when that law imposes criminal sanctions,” the petition says.
The 20-page filing can be found here. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Governor Tony Evers announced the suit on June 28. As of press time, no schedule has been set for hearing the petition; the issue will likely be litigated through the court system and end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Contact the Society’s Mark Grapentine, JD for more information or with any questions.
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