Republican prosecutor will appeal judge’s ruling invalidating Wisconsin’s 174-year-old abortion ban

by Madison Thomas
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A Republican prosecutor has announced his intention to challenge a court ruling in Wisconsin that asserts the legality of abortions, marking the initial step towards a potential legal clash within the state’s Supreme Court regarding abortion rights.

Joel Urmanski, the District Attorney of Sheboygan County, expressed his disagreement with the ruling made by Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper in July. Urmanski, in a statement released through his legal representatives, argued that Wisconsin’s state law unequivocally prohibits abortions, including what he termed “consensual medical abortions.”

The case is expected to proceed to the state Supreme Court for resolution. As it stands, the court currently leans towards a liberal majority of 4-3, making it less likely for conservative viewpoints to prevail at this level. However, Urmanski could potentially prolong the legal process beyond the spring elections of 2025, hoping for a change in the court’s composition if liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley loses her re-election bid, thus potentially shifting the balance in favor of conservatives.

The core of the matter revolves around a Wisconsin law dating back to 1849, which conservatives have interpreted as a prohibition on abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, reactivated this law. Consequently, abortion providers in the state ceased operations, fearing they might violate the ban.

In response, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, challenging the validity of the ban. Kaul argued that the statutes were too antiquated to be enforced and that a 1985 law, which permits abortions before fetuses can survive outside the womb, takes precedence over the ban. Subsequently, three doctors joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, expressing concerns about potential prosecution for performing abortions.

Urmanski is currently defending the ban in court, and Sheboygan is home to one of the three Planned Parenthood clinics in Wisconsin that provide abortion services, with the others situated in Madison and Milwaukee.

Judge Schlipper’s ruling in July stated that the legal language of the ban did not explicitly use the term “abortion,” thereby suggesting that the law solely prohibited acts directed at harming a pregnant woman and her unborn child. While this ruling did not formally conclude the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood saw it as favorable enough to resume abortion procedures at their Madison and Milwaukee clinics in September.

Subsequently, Urmanski filed a motion requesting Schlipper to reconsider her ruling. However, she declined in a 14-page opinion issued recently, asserting that Urmanski had not demonstrated any misapplication of state law or other errors and declared the plaintiffs as the victors in the lawsuit. Furthermore, she denied the doctors’ request for an injunction to prevent prosecutors from charging abortion providers, expressing confidence that prosecutors would adhere to her ruling.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, both Democrats, have indicated their willingness to abide by Schlipper’s ruling. Urmanski has similarly stated his commitment to follow the ruling unless it is stayed on appeal.

Julaine Appling, the president of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, criticized Schlipper’s interpretation of the law, considering it a setback that comes at the expense of the lives of future Wisconsin citizens. Appling welcomed Urmanski’s decision to appeal, expressing hope that it would overturn the “egregious decision.”

During a news conference on Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul anticipated an appeal, stating that he fully expected other courts to weigh in on the matter. He emphasized that, for now, the ruling represented a significant victory for reproductive freedom in Wisconsin, and he was prepared to defend this victory as they move forward.

Wisconsin Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, whose district includes Sheboygan, expressed his satisfaction with Urmanski’s decision to appeal. He indicated that if the ban were ultimately invalidated, Republican lawmakers would contemplate alternative legislative measures, without providing further details.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Abortion Ban

What is the core issue in the Wisconsin abortion ban case?

The core issue in the Wisconsin abortion ban case revolves around the interpretation of an 1849 state law, which conservatives argue prohibits abortion. This law was reactivated after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, raising questions about its validity.

What is the current makeup of the Wisconsin Supreme Court?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court currently has a liberal majority of 4-3. This composition could impact the outcome of the legal battle over the abortion ban, as conservatives may face challenges in prevailing at this level.

Who is defending the abortion ban in court?

Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski is defending the abortion ban in court. The city of Sheboygan is home to one of Planned Parenthood’s clinics providing abortion services.

What was Judge Diane Schlipper’s ruling in July regarding the abortion ban?

Judge Schlipper ruled that the language in the abortion ban did not explicitly use the term “abortion.” Therefore, she interpreted the law as prohibiting acts aimed at harming a pregnant woman and her unborn child. This ruling provided some favorable grounds for Planned Parenthood to resume abortion procedures.

What are the implications of this legal battle for abortion rights in Wisconsin?

The outcome of this legal battle could have significant implications for abortion rights in Wisconsin. If the ban is upheld, it may restrict access to abortion services in the state. Conversely, if it is invalidated, it could safeguard reproductive freedom for women in Wisconsin.

What happens next in the legal process?

The case is expected to proceed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. However, Joel Urmanski, the prosecutor defending the ban, may attempt to prolong the legal process beyond the 2025 spring elections in the hopes of a change in the court’s composition.

What is the stance of Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul on this issue?

Attorney General Josh Kaul challenged the ban’s validity shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. He argued that the ban’s age made it unenforceable and that a 1985 law permitting abortions before fetal viability should take precedence.

How have other prosecutors in Wisconsin reacted to the ruling?

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, both Democrats, have stated their intention to abide by Judge Schlipper’s ruling. Similarly, Joel Urmanski has committed to following the ruling unless it is stayed on appeal.

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