Wisconsin lawmakers are fractured over reproductive rights after party leaders introduced two dueling proposals to alter state abortion laws, both of which appear unlikely to pass.
Last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) held a press conference to introduce a bill amending Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban to include exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Reinstated after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, the 1849 ban currently makes it a felony for medical professionals to perform abortions in the state of Wisconsin.
Evers responded to Vos’ proposal with one of his own — a definite veto.
“I won’t sign a bill that leaves Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe,” Evers said Tuesday, reiterating his commitment to veto any bill that failed to completely repeal the 1849 abortion ban.
Evers joined Democratic lawmakers Tuesday to unveil their own proposed abortion legislation. If passed, Democrats’ “Restore Roe Act” would repeal Wisconsin’s abortion ban and revert state abortion law to before Roe’s overturn, which allowed abortions for any reason up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Let’s have a debate,” Evers said. “Republicans have their bill, and Democrats have their bill.”
Democrats’ proposal is unlikely to pass after garnering sharp criticism from Vos. But Vos’ proposal seems likely to face its own roadblocks after. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said last week he would not bring the bill to the floor because of Evers’ commitment to veto it.
“Further discussion on this specific proposal is unnecessary,” LeMahieu said in a statement following Evers’ announcement. “The bill will not be considered on the floor of the Senate.”
Still, Vos promised Wednesday to bring his proposal for an Assembly floor vote, calling it a “middle ground” bill.
"I think most Independents and Democrats support updates to health of the mother and 90% agree on updates to exceptions,” Vos told Corri Hess of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The only person in the way is Gov. Evers."
Some Senate Democrats believe Vos’ bill is conveniently timed, falling after the GOP defeat in last November’s midterm elections and before the upcoming Supreme Court election on April 4.
“Republicans are simply flailing after suffering unexpected defeat during last year’s midterm elections, in large part because of their draconian position on abortion access,” Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) told the Associated Press last week. “They are sorely mistaken in their hopes that [this legislation] will placate Wisconsin women.”
Outside the Capitol, Wisconsin reproductive rights groups have largely rallied around Evers.
Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, released a statement backing Democrats shortly after Vos announced his bill last week.
“This bill is not about protecting survivors,” she said. “This bill is simply a covert way for legislative leadership to enshrine the 1849 criminal abortion ban and take away Wisconsinites’ ability to make their own health care decisions. It’s taking away freedoms in compromise’s clothing.”
Madison Abortion and Reproductive Rights Coalition for Healthcare President Hailey Rude agreed with Evers’ decision in light of the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election on April 4, which could flip the ideological balance of the court in favor of the liberal justices ahead of a potential case challenging Wisconsin’s abortion ban.
“If there was no chance of ever having anything more than the sole abortion ban with exceptions of rape and incest, then I would be like, ‘Well, why aren't you doing this?’,” she said. “But because of the state that Wisconsin is in, there is that hope to have a full overturning of the 1849 ban.”
“Why settle for less when you could get more?” Rude added.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court election has become a recent focus of national news, with record-breaking money pouring into the campaigns of conservative Daniel Kelly and liberal Janet Protasiewicz. Following the election, the court will likely review a case brought by Attorney General Josh Kaul that seeks to overturn the 1849 abortion ban.
UW MARRCH, an affiliate of the Madison Abortion and Reproductive Rights Coalition for Healthcare, plans to air their grievances this Saturday at the Rally for our Rights event hosted by reproductive rights advocates from across Wisconsin. These groups are currently working on getting out the vote, Rude said, believing the upcoming election to be integral to the fight for reproductive rights in Wisconsin.
With the potential of a liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, reproductive rights advocates are standing strong in their determination to restore full abortion rights — not just a fraction — to Wisconsin residents.
“Why have [a fraction] when we could have more because of the election?” Rude said. “We're now seeing that there is possibility.”
Annika Bereny is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state news and politics reporting. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.