OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – Local governments and law enforcement agencies are grappling with how and if they will enforce Wisconsin’s abortion ban.
When the Supreme Court stripped away a women’s constitutional right to an abortion on Friday, Wisconsin reverted back to an 1849 law that banned abortions. It states that any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony.
There is an exception when the life of the mother is at risk, but no exceptions for things like rape or incest. Those charged under this law could face up to six years in prison.
In Fond du Lac County, the answer to whether officials there will enforce the law is clear.
“I’m going to enforce the rule of law as a district attorney and I’m not going to pick and choose when we’re going to enforce the law,” said District Attorney Eric Toney.
Toney said that there isn’t an abortion clinic in Fond du Lac County, so he doesn’t anticipate enforcing the law will occupy a great deal of time and resources for his office or for the sheriff’s office. The law states that anybody other than the mother would be liable for destroying the life of an unborn child, so doctors at abortion clinics would presumably be the most at risk of falling in that category.
There are three Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions in Wisconsin. They suspended abortion services on Friday after the Supreme Court decision.
“But I do think it’s important for the public to understand where their DA (district attorney) stands on enforcing the rule of law,” said Toney.
Toney’s position on enforcing Wisconsin’s abortion law is different than that of state attorney general Josh Kaul.
At the Democratic State Convention in La Crosse this weekend, Kaul said that his office wouldn’t enforce the abortion ban. At the same event, governor Tony Evers promised that he would provide clemency to physicians charged under the abortion law.
On Tuesday, Kaul filed a lawsuit in Dane County seeking to block Wisconsin’s abortion ban. He said a 1985 law that permits abortions up to the point of fetus viability (when the fetus is able to live outside the uterus which occurs around 24 weeks) supersedes the 1849 abortion ban law.
Kaul also believes that the 1849 abortion law is no longer enforceable because it hasn’t been enforced for many decades while Roe v. Wade was the law of the land.
Toney said he’s disappointed that a state attorney general would refuse to enforce a law.
In Outagamie County, county executive Tom Nelson said he would like to see the county not enforce the abortion law.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate, I don’t support using local county resources to enforce law that singles out doctors and women,” said Nelson.
Ultimately though, Nelson acknowledges it’s up to law enforcement and the district attorney to determine how they handle enforcement. Local 5 News reached out to the Outagamie County sheriff’s office and officials there told us that they would continue to address calls related to the abortion ban.
The sheriff’s office officials Local 5 News spoke to noted they don’t anticipate that violations of the abortion ban will pop up in this county very often if at all.
However, when Local 5 News asked if they would arrest those suspected of violating the ban we didn’t get an answer. Local Five News also reached out to Outagamie County’s district attorney but didn’t hear back despite multiple phone calls.
The Winnebago County sheriff’s department told Local 5 News it will follow the law and enforce the abortion ban.