WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — Republicans held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit anyone from performing or attempting to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is present except in the case of a medical emergency.
Advocates with Wisconsin Right to Life view the bill, which mirrors the Texas abortion law that passed in 2021, as a protection of life.
“We look to Texas and see that in six months it has already saved thousands of lives and we are overjoyed that it has been introduced here in Wisconsin," said Wisconsin Right to Life legislative director Gracie Skogman.
Skogman said Wisconsin Right to Life has worked with state lawmakers to help model the bill after the Texas abortion law. If a heartbeat is present, the bill prohibits abortion unless the pregnant woman's life is in danger or she could suffer irreversible physical problems from the pregnancy.
Opponents call it a near total ban on abortion.
“The vast majority of people won’t even know they’re pregnant by the time this prohibition kicks in,” said Mike Murray, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
Jenna Nobles, a professor of Sociology at UW-Madison, says the earliest a woman can learn she’s pregnant is 4-5 weeks into her pregnancy and a heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks. That means the bill would give women just days to access an abortion.
“The average person with the average menstrual cycle would have about six days to seek an abortion under this legislation. People who have an irregular menstrual cycle who learn about a pregnancy later would have zero days,” Nobles said.
In addition, there's confusion about what constitutes a heartbeat and when exactly one can be detected.
"The fetus does not develop a heart with chambers and muscles until much later in the pregnancy. But as early as six weeks in, it is possible to detect electrical activity and so that is what's being referenced as a heartbeat," Nobles said.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, modern ultrasound technology allows clinicians to be able to detect electric impulses and translate them into a sound that mimics a true heartbeat. However, at six weeks of pregnancy, cardiac valves have not yet developed, and so there isn’t true cardiac activity. Weeks 17 and 20 are when true cardiac activity can be detectedon an ultrasound.
Another controversial aspect among opponents of the bill is that it would allow any private citizen to sue an abortion provider who violates the prohibition, regardless of whether they have a stake in the abortion. Anyone who prevails in a lawsuit would win at least $10,000 for every abortion performed.
"It would mean that any individual or organization that provides abortion care would face financial ruin for providing care that patients need. For all intents and purposes it's the same impact as making abortion a crime," Murray said.
While Evers is likely to veto the bill if it were to pass in the state Legislature, Republican gubernatorial candidates have expressed support for the bill, according to AP News. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for candidate Kevin Nicholson released a statement saying "As Governor, Kevin would sign legislation that prevents abortion and protects innocent life."
Leaders in the Senate and Assembly have not yet scheduled any floor votes on the bill.