, , , , , ,

Voters in some Wisconsin cities will weigh in on abortion ban in fall election referendums

A Racine referendum will ask voters if the 1849 Wisconsin abortion ban should be repealed

A protester's sign says "abortion is healthcare."
Jake Bodoh of Madison holds a sign during a protest for abortion access following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Some Wisconsin voters will have a chance to offer their views on the state’s 1849 ban on abortions, as several cities are putting the question to an advisory referendum this fall.

On Tuesday, the Racine City Council unanimously approved a resolution to put the referendum on the ballot this fall. It will ask voters if they think Wisconsin’s abortion ban, which makes the procedure a felony in most cases, should be repealed.

Dane County previously approved a referendum in July. And on Thursday night, the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors will vote to put a similar question on a referendum.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Wisconsin adopted statutes in 1849 and 1858 banning doctors from performing abortions unless the pregnant person’s life is in danger. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 invalidated the ban. But the Court’s decision in June to reverse Roe put Wisconsin’s 19th century ban back into effect.

Racine City Council member Natalia Taft proposed the idea for the referendum in Racine. She said she’s heard support for it from many residents there.

“I am pretty confident that the majority of people in Racine, just like the majority of folks in Wisconsin, just like the majority of folks in this country, believe that people need to have access to these services,” Taft said.

In a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday, 55 percent of respondents said they were very concerned about abortion policy; only 8 percent said they were not concerned.

Taft said she was “devastated” following the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June.

“I just felt like I got punched in the gut. I felt violated,” she said.

She quickly helped organize a rally and protest in Racine following the news, after she realized many residents were outraged at the decision.

“I was both sad and encouraged by the number of people that showed up to that rally that were new, that I’d never seen at any sort of rallies or political events before,” she said.

Taft views the move as a way to show the state Legislature how local voters feel about the issue. After the SCOTUS decision was released, and at the direction of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking to block the state’s 173-year-old ban on abortions.

“In the meantime, unfortunately in Wisconsin, we have to do this community by community to be heard,” Taft said about the referendum.

Racine’s referendum, which is non-binding, will read: “Should Wisconsin Statutes section 940.04, which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient, be repealed to ensure legal access to abortion care?” Voters can vote “yes” or “no.”

Evers sent a statement to Wisconsin Public Radio Wednesday after learning about the referendum.

“It’s clear that the vast majority of Wisconsinites support access to safe and legal abortion and believe that people should have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions without interference from politicians,” Evers said. “Especially on an issue as important as this one, folks in every community deserve the chance to make their voices heard and elected officials have a duty to listen.”

Voters in Dane County will see a similar referendum on their ballot this fall.

La Crosse County Board chair Monica Kruse proposed the idea to the board. She hopes it’ll pass during a board meeting Thursday night.

She’s encouraged that Racine and Dane County officials took similar moves.

“I think there’s strength in numbers,” Kruse said. “When there are many voices asking for a change, I think that’s more effective than if there’s just a few, so I thought it was important for us to join this fight.”

A referendum in Milwaukee County will not be on the ballot after the measure failed to receive enough votes from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

Two weeks ago, voters in Kansas rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have said there was no right to an abortion in the state. Kansas was the first state to vote on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization.