Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm joins statement committing to not criminalize abortion

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Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm joined more than 80 other prosecutors around the country Friday in a joint statement committing to not criminalize abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning its landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade.

The statement from the group Fair and Just Prosecution said: "Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice; prosecutors should not be part of that."

Chisholm said in May that law enforcement shouldn’t be thrown into deciding whether to charge doctors who perform abortions but declined to say whether he would enforce the law that bans abortions.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in April 2021.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in April 2021.

"We're engaged in overwhelming public safety issues right now and this is not a helpful addition to anything that any prosecutor wants to get involved in," Chisholm said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the top prosecutor in the state's most liberal county signaled he would not enforce a law that criminalizes abortions for Wisconsin doctors.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne's announcement potentially could allow abortion providers in Dane County to resume procedures.

Ozanne said he would use his discretion as a prosecutor to avoid enforcing "archaic" laws — referring to the state's ban on abortions that was passed in 1849.

"I have every intention of utilizing the power Dane County voters entrusted in me and will use my discretion to prosecute only those crimes that keep our community safe and represent our collective values," Ozanne said in a statement.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

"If the voters want a district attorney who prosecutes women for seeking an abortion or licensed providers who are acting in the best interest of their patients, they will need to elect someone else."

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett also said his office would not investigate possible violations of the state's abortion ban.

"The Dane County Sheriff’s Office does not have the resources nor expertise to investigate medical professionals conducting medical procedures in medical facilities," he said in a statement.

More: Is abortion legal in Wisconsin? Here's how the overturning of Roe v. Wade affects Wisconsin abortion laws

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin did not immediately say whether their clinics in Dane County would resume procedures.

Whether the state's 19th-century law criminalizing abortion is enforceable is up for debate, according to nonpartisan attorneys for the state Legislature, but the legal risk pushed Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to halt all procedures immediately following the release of the Supreme Court ruling.

"District attorneys are generally provided wide discretion in determining whether to prosecute violations of the law. Thus, the degree of enforcement may vary throughout the state," attorneys with the Wisconsin Legislative Council said in a May memo on the effect of Roe v. Wade being overturned on Wisconsin's abortion laws. The attorneys also noted that "the enforceability of the statute could be subject to challenge on one or more grounds."

It's unclear how other district attorneys will handle the law.

More: Clarence Thomas calls for Supreme Court to 'reconsider' gay marriage, contraception after Roe v. Wade falls

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said in May, following a leak of the opinion that was released Friday, that he would not enforce a ban while Republican candidates running against him said they would.

"I applaud the court for protecting innocent life. Unlike the lawlessness of our failed Attorney General, Josh Kaul, I will uphold Wisconsin law," former state Rep. Adam Jarchow, who is running against Kaul, said in a statement.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, who also is running against Kaul in the Republican primary for Attorney General, said Kaul should apply the law instead of pick and choose which laws to follow.

"By refusing to enforce the law, Josh Kaul has failed the fundamental requirement of serving as attorney general. This is and always should have been a state issue, ” he said in a statement.

Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel contributed.

Contact Molly Beck at Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin district attorneys vow not to criminalize abortion