The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin recently received some good news: A Dane County judge ruled that an 1849 Wisconsin law does not prohibit abortions. As such, abortion will be available at clinics in three different cities throughout the Badger State. The case is likely to head to the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, there is still much more to be done for abortion in Wisconsin and throughout the country.
Since abortion was unavailable in Wisconsin for nearly 15 months after the ultraconservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade in June 2022, this is welcome news. But it is not a total celebration. Even before Roe was repealed, Wisconsin was — and continues to be — a hostile abortion state.
For instance, although abortion is allowed in Wisconsin, there are various barriers to receiving access. Perhaps the greatest barrier is the lack of abortion clinics. Currently, there are only three abortion clinics in the state. These are in Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan — meaning that people living in the northern part of Wisconsin must travel several hours to the nearest clinic.
Meanwhile, there are more than 80 anti-abortion centers throughout the state. These fake clinics purport to share free, unbiased information about pregnancy and abortion. However, their mission is to dissuade women from choosing an abortion. Often infused with religious propaganda, these unscientific centers populate the state. Anti-abortion legislators have also introduced bills to give such centers $1 million per year.
In addition to the difficulty of navigating transportation to the nearest clinic, there is the barrier of Wisconsin law requiring that physicians must wait 24 hours after a state-mandated counseling session before performing an abortion procedure. These counseling sessions must be in person, not over the phone or Zoom. Additionally, medication abortion must be distributed in person — not by pharmacy or mail. This is counter to science showing that abortion pills are safe and do not require these restrictions.
And for minors in Wisconsin, abortion can only be obtained with parental/guardian consent or through a judicial bypass. Minors who do not tell their parents about their pregnancy and desire for an abortion often have very good reasons. Research has found that minors can be subjected to abuse and forced childbirth by unsupportive parents. Furthermore, limited transportation and funds means that minors face additional obstacles in accessing abortion care.
Plus, abortion is costly. Wisconsin is one of 34 states plus the District of Columbia in which public funding is not allowed to cover abortion unless for instances of rape, incest or life endangerment of the pregnant person. Known as the Hyde Amendment, this anti-abortion law disproportionately impacts those on Medicaid and Medicare, as well as those on the Indian Health Services Plan, in federal prison and in the Peace Corps.
All of this is to say that abortion access continues to be precarious in Wisconsin and throughout the country. Our biggest lesson from Roe v. Wade should be that legality does not mean accessibility. Anti-abortion laws are not rooted in science or facts, but rather Christian nationalism.
So while we have cause to celebrate the reopening of abortion clinics in all three locations in Wisconsin, let us not settle for a future of Roe. That was the floor. We need more than Roe.
Much work is required to make sure that abortion is available to all who seek it.