OSHKOSH, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker July 20 signed a bill into law that would prohibit all Wisconsin abortions at or beyond the 20-week gestation mark, making an exception only for medical emergencies.
"I think this is one of those where even for those, certainly for me as someone, my family's pro-life, but regardless of people -- where they might stand, when an unborn child can feel pain, I think most people feel that it's appropriate to protect that child," said Walker, who a week earlier declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Supporters of the law cited medical evidence that shows an unborn child's pain receptors are present no later than 16 weeks after fertilization, with nerves that link the receptors to the brain no later than 20-weeks gestation.
It also requires the pregnant woman be informed, orally and in writing, of the unborn child's gestational age and numerical odds of survival, as well as "written materials on the availability of perinatal hospice."
Eighty-nine of the 6,462 Wisconsin abortions in 2013 were carried out at or beyond the 20-week gestation mark. While that is less than 2 percent of total state abortions, Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, said she wants a "no babies left behind" approach.
In an interview with The Compass, newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese, when the state Senate passed the bill June 9, she said that if the bill became law, it would "save probably 95 percent of the babies who would be in these late-term situations with the woman considering an abortion."
"And if only 5 percent of those fall into the medical emergency language, then, at the end of the day, we've saved 95 percent. But our job now is to come back and save the other 5 percent," she said.
The state Assembly passed the bill July 9. At least a dozen states have passed similar laws.
Barbara Sella, associate director for respect life and social concerns of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, said there is more to this bill than abortion. She said the big picture is about building a culture where "people with disabilities and their families are supported and embraced rather than pushed away."
"These types of abortion force us to confront the fact that many children with medical conditions are being routinely aborted, in part, because parents are understandably overwhelmed at the prospect of having to care for them," she told The Compass.