MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican prosecutor said Wednesday that he plans to appeal a court ruling that Wisconsin law permits abortions, the first step toward a potential showdown in the state Supreme Court over abortion rights.
Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski issued a statement through his attorneys saying that he disagrees with Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper's July finding and state law clearly bans abortions, including “consensual medical abortions.”
The case appears destined to end up at the state Supreme Court.
Liberal justices currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court, making it unlikely that conservatives would prevail at that level. Urmanski could string out the process beyond the 2025 spring elections, however, in the hopes that liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley loses re-election and conservatives regain control of the court.
In question is an 1849 Wisconsin law that conservatives have interpreted as banning abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion, reactivated the law. Abortion providers subsequently ceased operations in the state out of fear of violating the ban.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit days after the Supreme Court decision, challenging the ban’s validity. He argued the statutes were too old to enforce and a 1985 law permitting abortions before fetuses can survive outside the womb trumps the ban. Three doctors later joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, saying they fear being prosecuted for performing abortions.
Urmanski is defending the ban in court. The city of Sheboygan is home to one of Planned Parenthood's three Wisconsin clinics that provide abortions. The others are in Madison and Milwaukee.
Schlipper ruled this past July that the legal language in the ban doesn’t use the term “abortion” so the law only prohibits attacking a woman in an attempt to kill her unborn child. Her finding didn’t formally end the lawsuit but Planned Parenthood was confident enough in the ruling to resume abortion procedures at their Madison and Milwaukee clinics in September.
Urmanski later filed a motion asking Schlipper to reconsider her ruling. She refused in a 14-page opinion issued Tuesday, writing that Urmanski failed to show how she misapplied state law or made any other mistake and declared that the plaintiffs had won the suit.
She also declined the doctors’ request to issue an injunction prohibiting prosecutors from charging abortion providers, saying she's confidant prosecutors will follow her ruling.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, both Democrats, have said they would abide by Schlipper's ruling. Urmanski has said he would abide by it as well. He reiterated in his statement Tuesday that he's obligated to follow the ruling unless it's stayed on appeal.
Julaine Appling, president of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, called Schlipper's interpretation of the law a regression that comes at the price of future Wisconsin citizens' lives.
“We are pleased to know DA Urmanski intends to appeal this egregious decision,” she said in a statement.
Kaul said during a news conference Wednesday morning before Urmanski's announcement that he fully expected an appeal.
“This decision can be appealed. I expect that it likely will be,” Kaul said. “And so other courts will weigh in on this. But for now, this is a major win for reproductive freedom in Wisconsin, and we are prepared to defend that victory and reproductive freedom as we move forward.”
Wisconsin Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu's district includes Sheboygan. He told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday afternoon that he was pleased to see that Urmanski plans to appeal. If the ban is ultimately invalidated, Republican lawmakers will consider other legislation, he said. He did not elaborate.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report.
Todd Richmond, The Associated Press