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Scott Walker signs anti-abortion bill into law

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one week after launching his bid for the 2016 presidential nomination, signed a bill on July 20 that outlaws non-emergency abortions at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The governor's signature makes Wisconsin the 15th state to pass such a ban. There is no exception in the new state law for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Walker's signing of the bill comes just nine months after he ran a television ad during his gubernatorial re-election campaign where he said whether to obtain an abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor.

The new law — which cleared the Republican controlled Legislature without any Democratic support — is expected to be challenged in court. Walker, speaking with reporters after the bill signing, said he was confident it would survive any legal challenge, calling the five-month ban a "reasonable standard."

"For people, regardless of where they might stand, when an unborn child can feel pain I think most people feel it's appropriate to protect that child," Walker said.

But Kaylie Hanson, speaking for the Democratic National Committee, said the new law was nothing more than a "timely favor" for the Republican base days after Walker joined the presidential race.

"The harsh reality is that this law will hurt women, as it puts up barriers to care for rape and incest survivors — no exceptions — and threatens the health of the mother," Hanson said in a statement. "This law doesn't only undermine the most basic women's health services. It's radical, dangerous, and lacks respect for half the population of Wisconsin."

Under the new law, doctors who perform an abortion at or after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations could be charged with a felony punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and 3 1/2 years in prison. Doctors could also be sued for damages.

Doctors would be allowed to perform abortions beyond 20 weeks only if the mother is likely to die or suffer irreversible injuries within 24 hours.

The law's supporters say fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. They say the ban will spare those unborn children an excruciatingly painful death.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, however, says fetuses can't feel pain until the third trimester starts at 27 weeks. Minority Democrats have complained that Republicans should leave women alone and let them decide how to handle their own bodies.

Abortions after 20 weeks are rare in Wisconsin. According to the most recent state Department of Health Services information, 89 of nearly 6,500 abortions performed in Wisconsin in 2013, or roughly 1 percent, occurred after the 20-week mark.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion but allowed states to restrict the procedures after the fetus reaches viability, the point where it could survive outside the womb. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability but said it could range from the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.

Courts have blocked bans in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona.

Litigation in other states is ongoing.

A federal appellate court in May struck down Arkansas' ban on abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, finding that prohibition unconstitutionally burdens women.

Reaction to the signing …

One Wisconsin Now research director Jenni Dye: “It is sickening but not surprising that Gov. Walker has put his own political ambitions above the health and lives of Wisconsinites. By signing this bill, Walker has forced pure political calculation to take the place of medicine when it comes to personal decisions about a woman’s pregnancy. 

“That even one woman’s life or health may be put at risk so Walker can increase his credibility with the extreme right-wing Republican presidential base is as unacceptable as it is heartbreaking. If Gov. Walker wants to make medical decisions, he should pursue a medical degree instead of continuing the relentless pursuit of his own political ambitions.”

Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck: "Signing this blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban is yet another attempt by our governor to cement votes from the far right in a presidential primary. It bears repeating: Gov. Walker has thrown women squarely under the bus to Iowa. I urge the governor and legislative Republicans to stop playing politics with women’s health and safety.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health executive director Sara Finger: “While incredibly disappointed, we are not surprised to see Gov. Walker enthusiastically sign Senate Bill 179 — a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks — into law. Against the advice of the mainstream medical community in Wisconsin, the super majority in our state legislature fast-tracked policy that disrespects women and their doctors.

"In Wisconsin, only two of the 132 state legislators have a health care background yet many of them are determined to ‘play doctor’ and push their extreme political agenda on Wisconsin women. Those on the front lines of health care are incredibly frustrated that their education, expertise and the evidence are being so blatantly ignored." 

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights: “Wisconsin politicians have criminalized safe, legal abortion services at the same time they are attempting to eliminate all abortion services by shutting down clinics with sham laws and red tape.

“With this law, women in Wisconsin will soon face a catch-22 of shrinking options earlier in pregnancy and a complete ban on services later in pregnancy. Women deserve to make their own health care decisions with the medical professionals she trusts, not interference from her governor or legislature who presume to know better.” 

Editor's note: This story is developing

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