Abortion Law in Wisconsin, 1849 to Today | local government

Wisconsin state law has prohibited abortion since 1849. That law has not been enforced for nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade, but the Legislature has passed other restrictions since 1973. Here’s a look at the history of Wisconsin’s abortion law, from the 1800s to today.

early history

Wisconsin’s first restrictions on abortion came from an 1849 homicide bill, much of which was copied from laws in Massachusetts, New York and Michigan, according to a report by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Office.

Initially, the law prohibited “expedited” abortion of a child, when a mother feels the fetus move, unlike Michigan’s restrictions on abortion in “any pregnant woman,” the report said. Acceleration usually occurs between 16 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The 1849 law deemed the “deliberate murder of an unborn child by any injury to the mother of said child” to be first-degree manslaughter, according to the Bureau of Reference. And he conducted proceedings “with the intention… of destroying such a child” for second-degree murder.

But in 1858, the Legislature removed the word “prompt” from the abortion law, outlawing the procedure at any time during pregnancy. Under the new state statutes, any woman who attempted to “cause a miscarriage” would face up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $500.

Wisconsin statutes of 1878 eased penalties, cutting the maximum prison sentence and reducing the maximum fine from $500 to $100. The penalties remained the same until the 1940s, when the Legislature again increased fines and prison terms.

In 1953, the Legislature separated the penalties for abortion from an “unborn child,” a fetus from the moment of conception, and a “fast unborn child.” By 1955, the maximum penalty for abortion was a $5,000 fine and three years in prison.

Era of Roe vs. Wade

In the early 1970s, the courts began to remove the restrictions. In 1970, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled in favor of a doctor who argued that Wisconsin’s abortion statutes were unconstitutional.

And in 1973, the US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade made unenforceable laws that prohibited abortion in Wisconsin, according to the Reference Bureau.

Still, the law was never done away with. And the Legislature continued to add restrictions on abortion throughout the 2020s, some enforceable and some not.

Abortion access could expand in northern Illinois to meet Wisconsin demand

Shortly after Roe, in 1974, the state added “conscience protections” for medical employees that allowed medical employees to object to participating in an abortion if they felt uncomfortable.

And in 1978, the state prohibited public funding of abortions with state, local and federal funds, except in cases of assault and incest, or when the mother was at risk of injury or death.

The Legislature then created a new statute in 1985 that prohibited abortion “after the fetus or fetus reaches viability,” according to the Reference Bureau. He also passed a law that prohibited anyone except doctors from performing abortions.

A 1992 law prohibited abortions for minors without parental consent unless the minor received a court-issued waiver. Four years later, the state required doctors to provide materials on fetal development, child support, and pregnancy help centers to women undergoing abortions, as well as requiring a 24-hour period for women to reflect on the decision.

In 1997, the state banned so-called “partial-birth abortions,” which the federal government also outlawed in 2003. It also banned funding for abortion-related activities. Two years later, Wisconsin barred the state’s Private Employer Health Care Purchasing Alliance from covering abortions that were not considered medically necessary.

Governor Walker

After Republicans came to power in 2010, winning a trifecta of state government, the Legislature passed a series of anti-abortion bills that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law.

In 2011, budget provisions prevented the University of Wisconsin from performing abortions in its hospitals and paying medical students to learn how to perform the procedure. In 2012, the state required doctors to conduct an evaluation to determine if a woman had been forced to have an abortion.


When the US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe was reported to be leaked in May, it sparked protests in Madison and across the country.

Natalie Yahr, The Capital Times

The law also added restrictions on medical, pill-induced abortions, requiring doctors to conduct an exam before giving abortion information and seeing the patient take the medication, and banning telemedicine for abortion.

A 2013 law required women undergoing an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before the abortion, seeing their heartbeat and hearing a description of what was on the screen, with the option to walk away.

And in 2015, Walker signed a law banning abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. Three years later, the Legislature prohibited state employee health plans from funding abortions.

After Republicans came to power in 2010, the Legislature passed a series of anti-abortion bills that Governor Scott Walker signed into law.


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