Republicans in the Legislature swiftly shut down Gov. Tony Evers' latest bid to overhaul Wisconsin's 1849 abortion ban on Tuesday morning, gaveling in and out of a special session in seconds with no debate.
Evers called the special session in a speech on Sept. 23. He asked the Legislature to consider a state constitutional amendment that would have allowed Wisconsinites to change state law through referendum, specifically Wisconsin’s 1849 near-total abortion ban that makes no exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
At the time, Evers said this would enable Wisconsin voters to take on abortion themselves. During his announcement, he cited Sen. Ron Johnson, who previously said the legality of abortion in the state should be up to Wisconsinites, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
However, Republicans in both the Assembly and Senate refused to consider the Governor’s proposal Tuesday. Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Assembly speaker pro tempore Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) each opened and closed their respective sessions in seconds, even as August was met with shouts of “no” and “coward” from multiple representatives on the floor.
Evers expressed his disappointment in a statement Tuesday.
“The people of this state should have the right to take a stand at the ballot box. But true to form, Wisconsin Republicans have refused to act,” he said. “That’s not leadership. And that’s certainly not democracy.”
Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin Lemahieu (R-Oostburg) dismissed the special session as a "political stunt" meant to distract from the governor's failings in a joint statement on Sept. 23.
"Governor Evers would rather push his agenda to have abortion available until birth than talk about his failure to address rising crime and runaway inflation caused by his liberal D.C. allies," Vos and LeMahieu said. "Hopefully, voters see through this desperate political stunt."
Though most Republican lawmakers were absent from Tuesday’s special session, numerous Democrats showed up in protest.
Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison), who represents most University of Wisconsin-Madison students living south and east of campus, told the Daily Cardinal that Republicans’ refusal to bring the vote to the floor demonstrated a disconnect with the public.
"We have a dysfunctional government when the leader who has the power refuses even to debate an issue that many Wisconsinites — the majority of Wisconsinites — want us to take action on,” Hong said. “For the governing body — the body with power — to not even debate the issue is cowardly and un-Wisconsinite."
Hong and fellow Democratic Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) both attended Tuesday’s session in pink attire, with Hong wearing a pink Planned Parenthood hat and Vining in hot pink pants. Hong said the attire represented their solidarity with abortion rights activists.
"Abortion is healthcare. And everyone that we love, and someone that you love, is going to need an abortion someday," Hong said. "It's important that they know that leaders in their government also reflect their interests."
Following the special session, Evers joined Lt. Gov. candidate and current Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) for a rally outside the Capitol. Evers, Rodriguez and other abortion rights activists gave speeches where they called attention to reproductive rights and the importance of the November election.
"I believe people deserve a voice since the Republicans have failed them in this building,” Evers said.
The governor also underscored further consequences for the state’s colleges and universities if Wisconsin’s 1849 ban is allowed to stand.
"If this continues, our [universities and institutions] accreditation to prepare OB/GYNs will be taken away from our medical schools here,” Evers said.
Abortion training is required for obstetrics-gynecology training, but religious and moral opt-outs are available for students who seek them, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Evers concluded the rally by urging Wisconsinites to take to the polls if they want to see changes in the legislation.
"We're fighting to make sure that every person here in the state of Wisconsin has the right to make their own decisions about their own body, their own life, and frankly, their future,” he said. “I'm counting on all of you to vote in this election."
Gavin Escott is a photographer and staff writer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal, focusing on city and state news. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.
Zoe Kukla is a state news reporter, photographer and graphics artist for The Daily Cardinal. Follow her on Twitter at @ZoeKukla.