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Former Gov. Scott Walker signed a number of abortion restrictions while in office that former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, now running for governor, supported.
They include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, limits on medication abortions, prohibiting the procedure from being covered through the health care exchange, requiring providers to have hospital admitting privileges and preventing providers from getting money from state family planning grants.
The abortion ban after 20 weeks carried with it a punishment of up to 3.5 years in prison for a provider who performed the procedure after that timeframe.
Although Walker, not Kleefisch, pushed these restrictions through, she has long been a pro-life candidate, and pro-life groups gave her credit for some of them.
Even before Texas lawmakers made headlines by effectively banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, statehouses across the country were setting up to tighten abortion restrictions in other ways.
Buoyed by a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, states have enacted more than 100 such restrictions as of early October, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion access. Experts say the new laws could be aimed at directly challenging Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973.
Such restrictions have been blocked in Wisconsin in recent years by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has vetoed a handful of abortion bills that made their way to his desk since he took office in 2019.
But former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican challenging Evers in 2022, has made it clear she’ll do the opposite if elected.
Kleefisch told a conservative radio host in September that she would sign a bill that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. (That breaks with former Gov. Scott Walker, who signaled at the end of his term that he would not ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.)
State Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, sought to bring up Kleefisch’s past record on abortion under Walker, even though at the time it didn’t include that specific bill.
In a Sept. 28, 2021 fundraising email, Roys wrote that "Wisconsin cannot become the next Texas" under Kleefisch as governor.
"Rebecca Kleefisch worked with Scott Walker to sign five abortion restrictions into law that took away services and threatened doctors with prison time for providing safe and legal abortions," she wrote.
Is Roys right?
Roys’ office pointed to five laws passed during the Walker administration that involved abortion:
A 2015 law that banned abortions after 20 weeks, with no exceptions made for fatal fetal anomalies or for victims of rape or incest.
A 2012 law that prohibited giving an abortion-inducing drug to a pregnant person unless the physician who prescribed the drug gives the person a physical exam and is physically present when the drug is given.
A 2012 law that prohibited insurance plans offered in Wisconsin under the Affordable Care Act from covering some abortions.
A 2013 law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.
A 2011 budget provision that prohibited abortion providers from receiving funding from state family planning grants funded with state and federal money.
It’s clear that these laws took away abortion services by limiting when, how and where people could obtain abortions.
Many of them were aimed at reducing the capacity of Planned Parenthood. The 2011 funding cut also ended up taking away health care services that weren’t abortion-related by forcing the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics in Beaver Dam, Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls and Shawano. At the time, Planned Parenthood officials said those centers did not perform abortions but did provide people with check-ups, screenings and access to birth control.
(It’s also worth noting that the law about hospital admitting privileges, which would have cut in half the number of abortion providers in the state, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court two years later.)
What about Roys’ point about prison time for doctors who provided abortions?
Walker’s 2015 bill banning abortion after 20 weeks made performing the procedure after that point a felony punishable by up to three and a half years in prison. Anti-abortion advocates say the fetus can feel pain during the procedure at 20 weeks; the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that painful touch cannot be distinguished until late in the third trimester.
To be sure, it was Walker signing the bills into law, not Kleefisch.
But the former lieutenant governor has long been part of the anti-abortion movement. She earned the endorsements of Wisconsin anti-abortion groups when she ran for lieutenant governor for the first time in 2010. And during the 2012 recall election, she was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, a national anti-abortion political action committee.
In that endorsement, the Susan B. Anthony List president thanked Kleefisch for her leadership alongside Walker and the Legislature in defunding Planned Parenthood of more than $1 million dollars.
Roys said Kleefisch worked with Walker to pass five abortion restrictions that took away services and threatened abortion providers with prison time.
The five rules did restrict abortion services, and one carried a punishment of prison time. Though Kleefisch did not herself sign them into law, she’s been credited with helping to push them through.
We rate this claim True.
The 19th, "In 2021, states are poised to tighten abortion restrictions," Jan. 10, 2021
Guttmacher Institute, "For the First Time Ever, U.S. States Enacted More Than 100 Abortion Restrictions in a Single Year," Oct. 4, 2021
Oyez, Roe v. Wade, accessed Oct. 20, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Gov. Tony Evers vetoes ‘born alive’ legislation and other abortion measures," June 21, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin won't change its abortion laws now. But it's on the table depending on the outcome of the 2022 election," Sept. 13, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "GOP lawmakers to fast-track abortion ban after 20 weeks," May 25, 2015
Wisconsin state Legislature, 2011 Wisconsin Act 217, accessed Oct. 20, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker signs bevy of bills into law," April 6, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker signs abortion bill; providers quickly sue," July 5, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Planned Parenthood funding facing cuts," May 18, 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Planned Parenthood, citing budget cut, to close four rural Wisconsin centers," Feb. 18, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Judges: Wisconsin abortion admitting privileges law unconstitutional," Nov. 23, 2015
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fetal Pain, accessed Oct. 21, 2021
Racine County Republican Party, "Kleefisch garners Wisconsin Right to Life endorsement," July 7, 2010
Susan B. Anthony List, "SBA List Candidate Fund endorses Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in Wisconsin recall election," April 6, 2012
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