Planned Parenthood resuming Wisconsin abortions a 'real step backward for human rights,' say bishops

MADISON, Wis. (OSV News) -- The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of Wisconsin's bishops, expressed "deep sadness and dismay" that Planned Parenthood plans to resume abortions in Wisconsin starting Sept. 18.

The decision "is not a step forward, but a real step backward for human rights," the Madison-based conference said in a statement Sept. 14. "It bears repeating that taking a human life is not health care, for it is neither healthy nor caring. Abortion is seen as a quick solution to human problems."

At the same time, it said, "an unexpected pregnancy can present real and significant challenges. Just as every child deserves protection, every woman deserves access to resources and community support throughout her pregnancy and in the years to come."

"Every woman deserves high-quality prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care, maternity leave, childcare, and other necessary supports for her and her family," the conference said, adding that "the Catholic Church stands ready and willing to walk alongside women experiencing challenges during pregnancy and parenthood."

The conference statement responded to Planned Parenthood's announcement the same day it would again offer abortion at its clinics in Milwaukee and Madison. Abortion clinics across the state stopped performing abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2022 decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned the court's Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion access a constitutional right.

The 1973 Roe decision had legalized abortion nationwide, which effectively nullified a 1849 Wisconsin law interpreted to outlaw abortion in all cases except to save a mother's life. With Dobbs, the law was back in effect.

However, days after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, Wisconsin's Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in Dane County challenging the ban. The suit is working its way through the state's judicial system courts and is expected to land before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

This July, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper ruled against a motion to dismiss Kaul's lawsuit, saying it can go forward. "In her ruling, Schlipper wrote that she found the 1849 law only applies to 'feticide,' which was defined as an 'act or instance of killing a fetus, usually by assaulting and battering,'" CNN reported. Schlipper's ruling prompted the Planned Parenthood decision to resume performing abortions in the state.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, and other advocates of legal abortion hailed the ruling. "It is an absolutely critical step on the path to protecting and expanding access to abortion care for the long term in Wisconsin," Atkinson told an ABC News local affiliate.

She also tweeted that Planned Parenthood "will never back down until abortion access is protected -- and expanded -- for the patients who count on us for care. No matter what."

In its statement, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference quoted Pope Francis: "It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life," adding, "Every human being is unique, whole, and sacred, and therefore every human being deserves the right to live."

Wisconsin's Catholic bishops are Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, conference president; Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison, conference vice president; Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, conference secretary/treasurer; Bishop William P. Callahan of La Crosse; Bishop James P. Powers of Superior; Auxiliary Bishops Jeffrey R. Haines and James T. Schuerman; and retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee.

Among the ways the church reaches out to help expectant mothers with their needs and the needs of their families is its Walking with Moms in Need initiative, which "seeks to ensure that no woman is alone when faced with such challenges," the conference said.

It urged anyone in need of such help -- or those they know in need -- to reach out to a local parish or Catholic Charities. "Pregnancy resource centers are also an invaluable source of support and can be found across Wisconsin," the conference said.

On the legislative front, the state Catholic conference said it will "continue to advocate for expanding postpartum care, reducing costs for birth, removing sales tax on feminine hygiene products and baby supplies, funding for pregnancy resource centers, adoption tax credits, and more."

A bill package called "Embrace Them Both" receives a public hearing in the Wisconsin Senate Sept. 19. The conference called the measure "a significant step forward."

"The WCC is ready to work with all legislators on additional legislation to support both mother and child," it added. "True justice protects the rights of both women and children, rather than pitting them against each other. We all can and must do better."

- - - OSV News staff compiled this report.