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What President Biden's executive order on abortion means for Wisconsin

Abortion rights rally
Posted at 3:49 PM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-08 19:30:33-04

MILWAUKEE — An executive order by President Joe Biden to safeguard reproductive rights is now in effect. However, with Wisconsin’s ban on abortion, some experts say not a lot will change in the Badger State.

President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Friday morning, President Biden signed an executive order that provides some protection for emergency medical care access to women who seek abortions in states that ban it, like here in Wisconsin. But it does not undo the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I mean this is a lot of smoke, but not a whole lot of heat,” said Ryan Owens, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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 Ryan Owens, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison

He says the president does not have the power to legalize abortion nationwide.

“The reality is in order to get any effective change on this you'd have to look at changing legislation,” said Owens.

Supreme Court
Abortion rights activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 11, 2022 in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

So what does this mean for people who live in Wisconsin, where abortion is now considered illegal. Practicing attorney and health law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Barbara Zabawa, says nothing much will change here.

“The state law is still the state law, which is it is illegal to get an abortion, unless the mother's life is in crisis, and so that's not going to change. What might change is that perhaps there will be more resources for women in Wisconsin who want to learn about where they can go for an abortion, maybe there'll be more access to attorneys willing to help women in Wisconsin,” said Zabawa.

The order directs the Health and Human Services Department to take action to protect medical abortions and expand contraceptive access. But it did not specify how it would do that. And although the U.S. Attorney General says states can’t ban the abortion pill since it is an FDA-approved medication, it is not clear if women in Wisconsin would be able to access those kinds of medications, like the abortion pill.

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Practicing attorney and health law professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Barbara Zabawa speaks with TMJ4 reporter Rebecca Klopf over Zoom.

“This executive order does ask the federal agency in charge of the Health and Human Services Department to come up with a plan to provide more access to these kinds of medications,” said Zabawa. “There may be ways that women could have more access to these kinds of medications, but whether that access will be in violation of our state law is still an open question.”

The White House is asking for a report within 30 days from the Health and Human Services Department about expanded access to things like the abortion pill and emergency contraceptives. Owens expects there will be legal challenges to this executive order.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin issued the following statement:

“Planned Parenthood Advocates of WI (PPAWI) is grateful for the Biden administration's commitment to take executive action to protect access to abortion care. In addition to today's actions, we urge the Biden administration to continue to explore and implement other executive actions that have been proposed by advocates and members of Congress to further protect abortion access.

Unfortunately, none of the actions announced today will restore access to abortion care in Wisconsin. That responsibility primarily rests with Wisconsin's Legislature, which could and should act to immediately repeal Wisconsin's criminal abortion ban. Every day that legislative Republicans choose inaction is another day where they are making the choice to deny essential abortion care to women and other people who can become pregnant in Wisconsin. In addition to our state legislature, Congress should act now to pass federal legislation that would restore the protections of Roe as federal law.

Should our state legislature or Congress continue to abdicate these responsibilities, the only other way to restore abortion access in Wisconsin is to have a court of competent jurisdiction clarify that Wisconsin's criminal abortion ban is unenforceable.”

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