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As conservatives reel from Supreme Court loss, GOP congressman calls for abortion ban exceptions

US Rep. Derrick Van Orden flipped Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District last year, but could be a top target for Democrats in 2024

Van Orden raises fists as he enthusiastically speaks to the crowd of Trump supporters
Derrick Van Orden, a Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, speaks to supporters of President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, before a rally at the LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem. Angela Major/WPR

As conservatives reel from a state Supreme Court loss, a Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation is calling for exceptions to Wisconsin’s ban on most abortions.

During an interview with conservative talk radio show on WSAU-AM this week, U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Prairie du Chien said that, while he strongly opposes abortion, compromise is needed to fend off “radical” Democrats.

He called for carve-outs in state law for cases of rape and incest. The freshman representative also said allowing abortions up to the 15th week of pregnancy should at least be discussed.

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“It’s deeply troubling to me as a Christian to even bring those things up. But, you know what? We have to understand where we’re at,” Van Orden said. “Every single time we can save a single human baby’s life, it’s the right thing to do. And with the Supreme Court getting flipped, we can very reasonably have or conceivably have Minnesota-style abortion laws here in Wisconsin.”

Abortion is legal in neighboring Minnesota. Earlier this year, the state’s Democratic governor signed a law meant to ensure broad protections for abortion and other reproductive services remain in place even if the makeup of the state’s courts changes in the future.

Reproductive rights were a top issue in Wisconsin’s hotly-contested Supreme Court election earlier this month. Liberals flipped the court’s balance of power in their favor for the first time in 15 years when Judge Janet Protasiewicz won by 11 percentage points on April 4.

Wisconsin’s Democrat Attorney General is suing to block Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on non-lifesaving abortions, and the case is likely to make it to Wisconsin’s highest court.

Van Orden acknowledged the magnitude of conservatives’ judicial loss and expressed dismay about Republican members of Wisconsin’s Assembly being challenged in primary elections.

“We understand that the vast majority of Americans do not want (the Democrats’) radical position on abortion and, the left, they want no restrictions,” Van Orden told WSAU. “And we do, so that’s what we’re going to work for here. And I think that we need to get our stuff together as Republicans to work to make sure that we can stem this tide. The country’s going in the wrong direction.”

In response, Wisconsin’s Democratic Party accused Van Orden of flip-flopping.

“Wisconsin voters know that Derrick Van Orden would do anything but protect our reproductive freedom, and we won’t be fooled,” the party wrote in a tweet.

Van Orden flipped Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district to Republican control when he narrowly won election last year. Now, he’s among a few dozen GOP lawmakers national Democrats plan to target in the 2024 election.

Ahead of the Supreme Court election, some Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill that would have allowed exceptions to Wisconsin’s abortion ban in the first trimester of pregnancy, if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It also would have added exemptions in cases where the fetus has no chance of survival.

That measure’s supporters included Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester, but it’s been stymied after Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, promised it would not be brought to the Senate floor. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers also vowed he would never sign such a proposal, saying it would leave “Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.”

Van Orden, however, voiced support for such legislation at the state level.

“We should have a law in the state of Wisconsin right now that says we have exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest, and we need to talk about a pain-capable, 15-week limit on abortion,” Van Orden said in the interview with WSAU.

A human fetus can’t feel pain until after 24 or 25 weeks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional organization that has advocated for abortion rights.

At the federal level, Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a bill last session that would have banned abortion nationwide at 15 weeks of pregnancy. It appears Van Orden doesn’t plan to back such legislation in Congress, however.

“In regards to federal legislation, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear this is an issue for states to determine,” a spokesman for Van Orden wrote in an email Friday.