The status of abortion access in Wisconsin remains under question, and the gubernatorial election will likely decide the future of abortion rights for the state.
In 1849, the Wisconsin State Legislature passed a statute prohibiting abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The law, which is now commonly referred to as the “1849 abortion law” denies women the right to an abortion at any stage in their pregnancy, only allowing exceptions in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. The law makes it illegal for any person to perform or help preform an abortion at any stage in the pregnancy, and that person can be found guilty and punished with up to six years in prison.
On June 24, 2022, when Roe V. Wade was overturned, Wisconsin reverted back to living under this 1849 law. The decision caused all abortion providers within the state to close as they faced potential prosecution for any abortions performed.
As of now, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has said that he would not enforce the law and Governor Tony Evers said that he will grant clemency to anyone charged under this law. Additionally, the two are challenging the law in court, claiming that abortion laws passed after 1849 repealed this law. The state enacted a law in 1985 that allowed abortion to the point of viability, usually around 22 weeks, and Kaul is claiming that this supersedes the 1849 law, making it unenforceable.
While many anti-abortion groups in Wisconsin want lawmakers to ban surgical abortions and to block medication abortions, lawmakers have claimed that they will wait until after the election to attempt to pass such legislation. GOP legislators are hoping Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels will win in November, paving the way for more extreme abortion laws to be passed in the state.
Michels has made it clear that he supports the 1849 abortion law and even supports limiting abortion access more, claiming that the law mirrors his position. And in 2004, during his run for Senate, Michels came out in favor of legislation that would prevent minors from crossing state lines for abortions to avoid parental consent notice laws.
While Michels supports the 1849 abortion law, the lengths at which he would support other abortion laws is up for question. Previously, he’s said that he would not support any abortion laws that would allow for exceptions in cases of rape and incest. In September, though, he was asked if he would sign a bill that banned abortion but left exceptions for rape or incest, and Michels said that he would sign the legislation.
On Friday, Tim Michels told me “my position is an exact mirror of the 1849 law” and that he would not back proposals to add exceptions for rape of incest pic.twitter.com/DVgoGiddpY— Matt Smith (@mattsmith_news) June 8, 2022
Video Credit: WISN 12 Reporter Matt Smith via Twitter
This statement has been criticized by Democrats as an attempt to win over voters who support abortion laws with exceptions.
Kayla Anderson, Tony Evers’ campaign spokesperson, said, “He’ll say or do anything to win an election, and he can’t be trusted to protect reproductive freedom.”
As November 8th approaches, the future of abortion access lies within the hands of Wisconsin voters.
The video used in this story was originally posted by Matt Smith on Twitter. Matt Smith is a journalist at WISN 12 in Milwaukee.