NASW is committed to protecting
reproductive rights, including Roe v. Wade.
NASW remains resolute
in our commitment to protect reproductive rights and freedoms. NASW affirms all
individuals have a right to bodily autonomy, that abortion is health care, and
that all individuals have the right to freedom of choice in accessing essential
health care services most especially their reproductive health.
The U.S. Supreme Court
on June 24, 2022, revoked
Roe v. Wade, and various states are poised to enact
laws to restrict access to abortion and reproductive health care. We have
created this page as a resource to keep social workers up to date on
reproductive rights issues and give them tools they can use to support reproductive
Message from NASW
President Angelo McClain and President Mildred "Mit" Joyner after the
U.S. Supreme Court decision:
"NASW is not surprised but still outraged by the U.S. Supreme
Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. This association believes everyone
should have the right to make their own decisions when it comes to their
reproductive health. We are not going back. NASW will continue to mobilize on a
state, federal and court level to do what is necessary to protect reproductive
READ OUR STATEMENT
June 11th NASW-WI Newsletter article:
OVERTURNING ROE V. WADE, WHAT WILL IT MEAN FOR SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN WISCONSIN IN TERMS OF ABORTION REFERRAL?
Shortly after this newsletter is released, it is likely we will have a Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which could overturn Roe v. Wade and effectively make abortion illegal in as many as half of the states in our country. This is because many states have enacted so-called Roe trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in most or all situations, if the case is overturned. And some states, such as Wisconsin, still have laws on the books banning or limiting abortion that may be, once again, enforceable if Roe were reversed.
The legal situation in Wisconsin is murky. This article does not provide legal advice, but it explores certain possible applications of existing Wisconsin statutes.
There is an 1849 law, Section 940.04 in the Wisconsin Statutes (which, although unenforceable due to Roe, is still on the books), that makes the provision of an abortion a felony. However, it says nothing about the legality or illegality of someone only assisting a pregnant person to receive an abortion in our state. On the other hand, Wisconsin does have a “Party to a Crime Law” (Section 939.05 of the Statutes) that, theoretically, could be used against a social worker or other individual who helps someone receive an abortion in Wisconsin, if and when the provision of abortion becomes illegal in our state.
Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Josh Kaul, has said publicly that he will not enforce the 1849 law if Roe is overturned. The Milwaukee County District Attorney has said the same, although many other district attorneys have not yet taken a position. AG Kaul has also publicly raised the legal argument that the 1849 law may no longer be enforceable because of the age of the law. It is very possible that there will be legal challenges if any Wisconsin DA decided to enforce the 1849 law.
So, if Roe is overturned, what can and/or should a social worker do if confronted with a client who is requesting an abortion? We know that social workers have an ethical obligation to serve clients. We know that even if abortion is illegal in Wisconsin, it will not be illegal in Illinois, Minnesota and probably not Michigan. We also know that there is a medication option that is available to patients from out of state and even out of country. We can surmise that it would be legally fraught for a social worker to refer a client directly to a medical practitioner who provides abortions illegally in our state. Whether any district attorney would actually use the “Party to a Crime Law” against such a social worker, and whether any jury would actually convict someone, is another question. On the other hand, a social worker serving a client seeking an abortion procedure or medication abortion might refer the client to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin ( https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-wisconsin) or Planned Parenthood of America (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/). It seems less likely that a referral for abortion options counseling would be found to make the social worker a “party to a crime.”
If one of the Republican candidates for Governor is elected this year, it is highly likely that the 1849 law will be strengthened and fully implemented. It is also possible that specific provisions might be adopted (following the lead of other states such as Texas) making it illegal for someone in state to assist a pregnant person to get an abortion either in or out of state.
Any social worker trying to navigate this murky legal environment should check with their malpractice provider and/or the attorney for their agency or practice, and otherwise keep themselves up to date on the latest legal developments in our state.
By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW