The Larson Report

Progressive Perspectives from State Senator Chris Larson


Dear neighbor,

Happy fall, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful summer and that you and your family have been able to avoid illness in the midst of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. With school in session once again, the Brewers hurtling toward the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and the Packers season just getting underway, there’s a lot going on. You’d certainly be forgiven if the actions of our State and Federal Government aren’t top of mind.

Sadly, there is one important public policy issue that has been thrust into the spotlight once again, and it isn’t good news. The issue in question is that of women’s reproductive freedom. We are quite possibly just a few months away from abortion being made completely illegal in the state of Wisconsin, and inaccessible for the majority of American women. For Wisconsin, as well as several other states, this would include extreme cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening medical condition.

How did we get here? What is at stake if things continue on their current path? What can be done to fight back? Keep reading as I attempt to answer these questions.

How did we get here?

For as long as people have existed, pregnancy has been a consequential and dangerous undertaking. Thankfully, modern medicine has made the process of carrying a child and giving birth much, much safer. However, there are many situations where a woman becomes pregnant and does not wish to give birth. It is not for me or any person other than a pregnant woman herself to determine the legitimacy of those reasons. The bottom line is that if we value freedom, if we value human rights, we cannot be okay with anyone being forced to have a child they do not want to have.

Sadly, a woman’s right to determine her own medical choices is a relatively new concept, thanks in no small part to the legacy of patriarchy across the world. The Constitutional right to a safe, legal abortion in the U.S. has only been recognized since 1973, and was guaranteed not by an act of Congress, but by a Supreme Court decision, the famous Roe v. Wade. Since then, anti-choice advocates have been working nonstop to limit access to abortion in all 50 states with varying degrees of success. Even this legislative session in Wisconsin, several bills meant to limit choice have been proposed. Still, the fundamental right to safe, legal abortion has remained more or less intact since 1973. Generations of women have been born and raised never knowing a country where reproductive freedom was completely denied to them.


Image credit: Washington Post/Getty Images


In 1849, 124 years prior to Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin passed a law that outlawed nearly all abortion, even in the cases of rape, incest, or serious medical condition. Only a very narrow provision to save the life of a pregnant woman is carved out of the near-total ban. Thankfully, since Roe this draconian abortion ban has not been enforced. Until recently, it seemed that this might be the case indefinitely. Then, Texas’ “Bounty Bill” happened. Much has been written about the bill itself, and make no mistake, it is the most extreme anti-abortion law currently in effect in the U.S. It turns average citizens into bounty hunters, empowering them to sue for $10,000 any person who aids a woman in attaining an abortion. Even more worrisome (for women outside of Texas at least) is not THAT the bill was allowed to take effect, but HOW.

By refusing to take action to block Texas’ bill, the U.S. Supreme Court (which currently has a 6-3 right-wing majority) has signaled that it may in fact be prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade when it releases its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the first half of 2022. If this happens, as I hinted at earlier, all abortion would become a felony in Wisconsin, with almost no exceptions.

What is at stake

A world where abortion is illegal is so hard for most people reading this report to fathom, it’s worth taking a moment to imagine what that would be like. Men, particularly abusive partners of women and girls of child-bearing age, will have more power over their partners, knowing that they would not legally be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Women who are victims of sexual assault would be subjected to an additional layer of trauma, knowing they would be forced to carry their rapist’s child to term.

Women who have medical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous, even life-threatening, would have to risk their life if they become pregnant. Those whose personal circumstances prevent them from being able to adequately care for a child may be forced to experience the loss of losing that child, to adoption or the child welfare system. Perhaps most alarming, women who are in the most dire of circumstances may feel forced to seek an abortion outside of the safety of a medical setting, which would have devastating health effects and lead to needless pain and suffering.

Forcing women to give birth against their will would likely result in a significant increase in utilization of safety net programs like BadgerCare, Foodshare, and more, which would cause already tight budgets to be strained even further. Ultimately, a woman’s decision to become a mother is hers to make. Even in the best of circumstances, if a woman does not wish to become a mother, it is not for the government to tell her otherwise. Allowing abortion to become illegal is sexist, inhumane, and expensive, and we simply can’t allow it to happen in a free society.

What can be done

This is all pretty heavy stuff, and it’s easy to feel discouraged and powerless. As your state senator, it is my job to stay engaged and do what I can to fight back. For my part, I have consistently spoken in favor of a woman’s right to choose, and have sponsored bills to that effect. Sadly, in the decade I’ve been in office, Republican control of the legislature has meant that access to reproductive care has become more difficult, not less. I am grateful for Governor Evers’ decision to veto anti-abortion policies as they arrive at his desk, but the reality is that Evers and my Democratic colleagues can’t fight back without your help. It is going to take thousands, even millions of people across the country and right here in Wisconsin to protect the right to a safe legal, abortion in America. Here are some things you can do to help.

CONTACT your state legislators and ask them to co-sponsor Senator Roys’ Abortion Rights Preservation Act (ARPA). You might even consider contacting Republican leadership and committee chairs to demand that they give it fair hearing.

CONTACT your member of Congress and ask that he or she co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA).

VOTE in every election at every level of government, and when you do, vote for candidates who support reproductive freedom.

SUPPORT organizations that fight for women’s health. These include Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro Choice America, Voto Latino, Emily’s List, and more.

TALK to your loved ones, even those who may consider themselves pro-life, about why you support choice. 1-to-1 conversations are powerful tools for shaping opinions. For a handy guide to these types of discussions, CLICK HERE.

Conclusion

When politicians get between people and their family planning decisions, bad things happen. When ideology gets in the way of science, bad things happen. We are all entitled to our own personal beliefs, but we must not try to impose those beliefs on others, particularly when the consequences of doing so are as significant as they are in the case of banning abortion. 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some cases. 1 in 4 American women will have an abortion by age 45. Now is not the time to move backwards. In the 48 years since Roe v. Wade, Americans have enjoyed a tenuous reprieve from sexist, outdated laws like Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban. That reprieve is looking more and more likely to end sometime next year. It is up to us to fight back.

Instead of pushing for bills that restrict choice, we should be promoting ones that make child care more affordable, strengthen public education, and move our state toward true universal healthcare. Instead of litigating the battles of the past, we should be looking for innovative ways to move Wisconsin forward.

 

In service,

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For resources on abortion or other women’s health issues, including where you can find care, visit Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s website: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-wisconsin


 MADISON OFFICE: 20 South, State Capitol
PHONE: (608) 266-7505
FAX: (608) 282-3547
EMAIL: Sen.Larson@legis.wisconsin.gov
U.S. MAIL: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882
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