Wisconsin Taxpayers Just Got Stuck Paying $1.6 Million for the State’s Abortion Fight

This is at least the fourth time in recent months that courts have awarded fees.

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The Wisconsin Department of Justice agreed Thursday to pay $1.6 million in attorney fees and other legal costs to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and several other plaintiffs who successfully challenged one of the state’s abortion laws.

The case challenged the requirement that abortion providers in Wisconsin have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. In March 2015, a district court judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The state of Wisconsin twice appealed the case, driving up legal costs for the plaintiffs. In both appeals, the state lost: The circuit court agreed with the initial court’s decision, as did the US Supreme Court this June, rejecting the case the day after it overturned a similar admitting-privileges provision in Texas. Now Wisconsin taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the legal costs from the appeals.

“This settlement should send a message to politicians that laws that are designed to obstruct a woman’s access to an abortion are not only unconstitutional, but they are a misuse of taxpayer resources,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the reproductive freedom project at the ACLU, in an emailed statement to Mother Jones.

This settlement comes on the heels of similar legal fee awards in three other states. In March, North Carolina had to pay $1 million to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU after losing a federal lawsuit over a law requiring providers to show women seeking abortions ultrasound images of their fetuses, accompanied by a description of the image contents from their physician, at least four hours before getting the procedure. The state also appealed the decision multiple times, driving up the legal tab. Ultimately, North Carolina had to dip into an emergency fund to pay the settlement.

In August, Alabama agreed to pay $1.7 million in legal costs to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups after they successfully challenged a state law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers. In the same week, a Missouri district court required the state to pay $156,000 in legal fees to Planned Parenthood Great Plains after the court struck down the state’s admitting-privileges law.

“Not only are these laws devastating to women’s health, but politicians are also seeing the steep price for taxpayers,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an emailed statement. “It is time to stop these political attacks on people’s health and rights.”

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Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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