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Wisconsin Abortion Bill Would Allow Men To Sue For ‘Emotional Distress’

A Wisconsin abortion bill seeks to punish abortion providers for providing women with access to safe, healthy options if they wish to terminate their pregnancies. Assembly Bill 237, if it were to pass, would allow men to sue abortion providers for “emotional and psychological distress” if a man who has gotten a woman pregnant does not agree with what she does with her body.

This attempt to punish abortion providers is a lesser-discussed aspect of a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks “postfertilization” (about 22 weeks, since pregnancies are usually measured from the woman’s last menstrual period) — legislation Governor Scott Walker says he will sign with or without an exemption for rape and incest victims.

“I mean, I think for most people who are concerned about that, it’s in the initial months where they’re most concerned about it,” Walker said. “In this case, again, it’s an unborn life, it’s an unborn child, and that’s why we feel strongly about it. I’m prepared to sign it either way that they send it to us.”

If the bill becomes law, doctors who perform abortions after that time could be charged with a felony, fined up to $10,000, and face up to three and a half years in prison. In addition, men would be able to sue abortion doctors for damages, “including damages for personal injury and emotional and psychological distress,”if a doctor performs or attempts to perform an abortion after the time limit.

The man does not need to be married to the woman, or in a relationship with her to sue the doctor, or even care about the child one way or another. He just needs to want money. The only hitch is that a man cannot sue if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest — if that exemption makes it into the final text. The bill also allows the woman to sue if she receives an abortion after this time.

The punishments for doctors under the legislation create quite an issue, as the majority of women who seek abortions after 20 weeks (less than 1.5 percent) do so because of severe health issues, because they do not learn they are pregnant until after 20 weeks, or cannot afford the procedure.

Republicans claim that the bill is necessary because a fetus can feel pain at the 20-week mark — an assertion that has been laughed out of the legitimate medical community:

“We know a lot about embryology [in the field]. The way that a fetus grows and develops hasn’t changed and never will,” Dr. Anne Davis, a second-trimester abortion provider, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon. “And what we know in terms of the brain and the nervous system in a fetus is that the part of the brain that perceives pain is not connected to the part of the body that receives pain signals until about 26 weeks from the last menstrual period, which is about 24 weeks from conception.”

Because the neural structures necessary to feel pain have not yet developed, any observable responses to stimuli at this gestational stage — like the fetal “flinching” during an amniocentesis — are reflexive, not experiential. Which is to say, the fetus at 20 weeks can’t actually feel anything at all. Which is to say, the fundamental justification for these laws is a really big, really popular lie.

“Scott Walker seems to be making crass and insulting remarks on a daily basis about abortion,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement targeting walker’s assertion that women stop caring about pregnancy resulting from rape and incest after the first couple months. “It’s impossible to understand why Scott Walker thinks that being pregnant as the result of rape or incest gets easier after a couple of months, but what’s crystal clear is that he has no regard or respect for women’s health.”

The good news is that 20-week abortion bans are not faring well in court. The Huffington Post notes that:

So far, the 20-week ban is not standing up well in court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s law last week, ruling it “unconstitutional because it categorically bans some abortions before viability.” The Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that states cannot ban abortions before the fetus would be viable outside the womb, which is estimated to occur between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“A woman’s right to choose is hers and hers alone. Scott Walker is the last person on earth who should be telling women how to make their deeply personal decisions,” Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for the progressive PAC Emily’s List, said in a statement. “Walker’s dangerous attempts to undermine women in Wisconsin tell us all we need to know about his agenda for women across the country – it’s extreme, outrageous and profoundly wrong.”

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