Wisconsin Right-to-Life Laws Upheld when Challenged in Court
This is a brief summary of court decisions upholding right-to-life laws that have been challenged in court.
Woman’s Right to Know Act
In 1996, the Woman’s Right to Know Act was enacted in Wisconsin. This law, which is set forth in s. 253.10 of the Wisconsin Statutes, is a detailed informed consent law requiring the voluntary and informed consent of a woman for an abortion. Unless a medical emergency exists, the physician is required to provide specific information to a woman before an abortion can be performed followed by a reflection period (usually 24 hours) to allow the woman the opportunity to consider whether or not she will consent to an abortion. This law also requires that the woman be given printed materials prepared by the state, including a fetal development booklet and a statewide directory of services which includes pro-life pregnancy help centers.
Before the Woman’s Right to Know Act could go into effect it was challenged in federal court by several physicians who regularly perform abortions and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. These plaintiffs claimed the Woman’s Right to Know Act constituted an “undue burden” on the right of women in Wisconsin to obtain an abortion. In Karlin v. Foust, 975 F.Supp. 1177 (W.D.Wis. 1997), trial court Judge Barbara Crabb held that the court was “bound by the holding in [the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision] to find that most of the obstacles set up by [the Woman’s Right to Know Act] do not constitute undue burdens that would make that state law unconstitutional as a whole.” The court found the law to be constitutional, but severed a few provisions that were found to be unconstitutional.
The case was then appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In Karlin v. Foust, 188 F.3d 446 (7th Cir. 1999), the appeals court also found the Woman’s Right to Know Act to be constitutional. The appeals court reinstated some provisions that were severed by the trial court and reinterpreted other provisions of the law.
The Woman’s Right to Know Act went into effect on May 31, 1998 during the appeal process.
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
In 1998, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was enacted in Wisconsin. This law, which is set forth in s. 940.16 of the Wisconsin Statutes, banned partial-birth abortions in Wisconsin and the penalty for committing this crime was life imprisonment.
Before the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban could go into effect it was challenged in federal court by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and several physicians who regularly perform abortions. They claimed the law was unconstitutionally vague because it could be construed to apply to other abortion techniques and that the law placed an “undue burden” on a “woman’s right to an abortion.” In Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Doyle, 44 F.Supp.2d 975 (W.D.Wis. 1999), trial court Judge John Shabaz found that the criminal statute banning partial-birth abortions was constitutional based on the extensive evidence presented at the full trial of the case.
The case was then appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Doyle, decided October 26, 1999, the appeals court also found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban to be constitutional.
The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the court refused to hear the appeal and chose to hear the case from Nebraska instead. The Wisconsin Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion is currently unenforceable because the U.S. Supreme Court’s Stenberg v. Carhart decision striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion also struck down similar state bans on partial-birth abortion in 2000.