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Republican Tim Michels changes position on adding exceptions to Wisconsin’s abortion ban

Michels, who has repeatedly said he opposes exceptions, said Friday he would support them as governor

Tim Michels gestures as he speaks outside during an event.
Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels speaks to Wisconsinites during a campaign stop Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Oconto, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels changed his position on abortion Friday, saying he would support exceptions to Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban after previously saying he opposed them.

Michels’ shift comes at a time when abortion has emerged as a pivotal issue in the race for governor, where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has pushed to overturn the state’s abortion ban and Democrats have attacked Michels for opposing abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade.

The issue came up again Friday during an interview on WISN-AM radio, where Michels was asked by conservative host Dan O’Donnell if he would sign a bill that bans abortion but includes exceptions for rape or incest.

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“Yes, I would sign that bill,” Michels said. “I am pro-life. I make no apologies for that. I also understand that this is a representative democracy. And if the people — in this case the Legislature — brought a bill before me, as you just stated, I would sign that.”

Michels’ remarks were a clear shift from comments he made months ago in the midst of a competitive GOP primary.

In June, weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court released its landmark abortion decision, WISN-TV asked Michels whether he would sign a bill into law that added exceptions for rape and incest. At the time, he said he would not.

“The 1849 Law is an exact mirror of my position and my position is an exact mirror of the 1849 law as well,” Michels said.

“But you wouldn’t support exceptions for rape or incest?” asked WISN-TV reporter Matt Smith.

“That’s correct,” Michels replied.

Michels maintained his position during the GOP primary.

On July 13, during a campaign stop in Eau Claire, Michels was asked by Wisconsin Public Radio whether he would support “any changes” to the abortion ban.

“The existing law on abortion mirrors my position on abortion,” Michels said.

Wisconsin Democrats also released audio earlier this month of Michels where he said he opposed adding an exception for victims of incest.

“You’d be amazed at the people that have called me up … that said ‘Tim, you have to soften your stance on abortion. You need to be for exception of rape and incest as well,” Michels said in the clip, which Democrats said was recorded at a Republican event. “I’m not going to soften my stance on abortion.”

Evers’ campaign seized on the comments, saying calling them a “dishonest” attempt by Michels to hide his views.

“Wisconsin voters are smart enough to see through Tim Michels’ dishonest attempt to hide his radical views on abortion, including his clear support for a ban that contains no exception for rape or incest,” said Evers spokesperson Kayla Anderson. “Tim Michels has told us what he believes time and again.”

Michels’ record opposing abortion goes back to at least 2004, when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate. Michels also donated $175,000 to anti-abortion groups in 2020.

It’s unclear whether he would even be given the chance as governor to sign a bill that would add exceptions for rape and incest to the state’s abortion ban. While Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he supports the idea, Wisconsin’s leading anti-abortion groups have all said they strongly oppose it.

But the idea is popular with the public. In the most recent poll by Marquette University, 63 percent of registered voters said they opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. And 83 percent said they supported allowing a woman to obtain a legal abortion if she became pregnant as the result of rape or incest.