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Wisconsin Democrats push to overturn state abortion ban

Gov. Tony Evers supported the Restore Roe bill, which would repeal the pre-Civil War criminal ban

A protester's sign says "My body, my soul, my life, my choice. Trust women!!"
Protester Jana Goodman chants and holds up a sign during a march for abortion rights on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin Democrats introduced a bill on Tuesday to restore abortion access in Wisconsin, legislation that Gov. Tony Evers said he will support.

It’s a reintroduction of a bill proposed last session, shortly after Roe vs. Wade was overturned, bringing a pre-Civil War abortion ban in Wisconsin into effect.

The proposed bill would repeal that ban. Democratic lawmakers said it would return the right to abortion access in the state.

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The bill “will restore access to safe, legal abortion in Wisconsin to what it was on June 23, 2022,” the day before the fall of Roe, Evers said at a press conference announcing the legislation on Tuesday morning.

A lawsuit challenging the existing ban is pending in the courts and is likely to go in front of the state Supreme Court. In two weeks, an election will determine the ideological balance of the court that will hear that lawsuit.

Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, who co-authored the bill, said the bill seeks to establish abortion access without court input.

“We can’t just sit and wait for the courts to act,” she said. “We need clarity now.”

Lawmakers on Tuesday said that the abortion ban is bad for women’s health, and discourages people from living in Wisconsin.

“Patients have been forced to leave the state. Even those patients facing serious health complications have had to travel out of state to receive the medical care that they need,” said Subeck.

Dr. Kathy King, an OB-GYN and medical director of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, joined lawmakers in supporting the restoration of abortion rights.

“I know — as do my medical colleagues — that pregnancy can be many things,” she said. “I know that pregnancy can be joyous and amazing culminating in the birth of a beautiful healthy baby. I know the pregnancy can be devastating when complications occur.”

King argued that abortion bans like Wisconsin’s lead to later-stage abortions after medical complications worsen — “The very thing some abortion bans claim to be trying to prevent,” she said.

A majority of Wisconsinites, both Democrats and Republicans, support allowing abortion in at least some instances. A September 2022 Marquette University Law Poll found more than 80 percent of Wisconsinites believe abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.

Wisconsin’s ban offers no such exceptions.

“It’s growing increasingly tiring for people in this building to accept the premise that restoring Roe and access to safe, legal abortion are radical ideas that only Democrats support,” Evers said. “They’re not. Republicans, Independents, Democrats — Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support Roe and safe, legal access to abortion.”

The announcement comes after legislative Republicans introduced a bill to add some exceptions to the ban. That bill is all but certainly dead in the Senate, and Evers has repeatedly said he will not support legislation that falls short of restoring full abortion access.

On Tuesday, Evers called on Republicans to engage with Democrats on the issue.

“We have a bill. Let’s have a debate,” he said. “Republicans have their bill; the Democrats have their bill. People of Wisconsin should be able to hear a debate about this issue. Not silence. We need a debate.”

In response, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a statement decrying Evers’ “hypocrisy.”

“Last week, Legislative Republicans introduced a bill that’s a reasonable middle ground to the divisive and opposing viewpoints on abortion. Governor Evers immediately said he would veto it,” Vos said. “Legislative Republicans have continued to say we’re willing to discuss and find consensus. Instead, Governor Evers issues an ultimatum of no negotiating.”