- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a longtime abortion opponent and likely presidential candidate, said Tuesday that he supports banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, taking a clear stance on an issue he avoided during his re-election campaign last year.

Walker issued what he called an “open letter on life” in which he stated his support for the ban, which is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. Walker said he would sign such a ban into law if it passes Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature. There is no bill pending, but anti-abortion advocates have said it’s a priority and expect there to be a proposal sometime this year.

Walker’s statement came after he didn’t take a position on a 20-week abortion ban during his re-election campaign last year. He ran an ad where he reiterated that he was anti-abortion, but also said that the decision to end a pregnancy is agonizing.

Walker was also criticized by conservative anti-abortion activists after saying in a Sunday interview on Fox News that changing the abortion law was impossible because “the Supreme Court ultimately made that.”

Frank Cannon, president of the conservative group American Principles in Action, derided Walker’s comments as “the very worst interview on the life issue I have seen from a Republican in recent memory. Claiming you are impotent to act on your core principles is neither true nor wise.”

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, a group that supports the 20-week abortion ban, said she was glad to see Walker’s statement taking a firm position on the issue.

“I think he said it well in his letter. He’s pro-life. He understands that this kind of bill is helpful in advancing the pro-life position,” Appling said.

But Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said after years of downplaying his opposition to abortion, Walker is now trying to court conservative Republicans as he explores a likely presidential run.

“I think it’s kind of typical from what we’ve seen the governor do in pursuit of the Republican nomination,” Safar said.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat, said Walker “is showing his true colors as he continues to woo the voters of Iowa.”

Walker notes in his letter that he defunded Planned Parenthood and signed a bill, currently on hold pending a federal lawsuit, that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. He also signed into law a requirement that women have ultrasounds and be shown images of the fetus before having an abortion.

Walker’s statement was released by his gubernatorial campaign committee, which has not dissolved, and came the same day that likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was to speak at an event by EMILY’s List, a group that supports Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

According to the most recent information provided by the state Department of Health Services, roughly 1 percent of abortions in Wisconsin in 2013 occurred after the 20-week mark - 89 of 6,462 abortions performed that year.

Ten states have passed such bans, which depart from the standard of viability established by the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, based on a tally by the Guttmacher Institute. That decision allowed states to limit abortions in cases where there’s a chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.

While some doctors contend fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says evidence suggests that’s not possible until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks.


Associated Press writer Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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