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Tim Michels says he supports abortion ban with rape, incest exceptions in Wisconsin

Wisconsin's current abortion ban dating back to 1849 does not identify such exemptions. It has become a major political issue for the candidates running in Wisconsin's 2022 midterm elections.
tim michels
Posted at 12:36 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 19:21:22-04

MILWAUKEE — The Republican candidate for governor, Tim Michels, is changing his stance on abortion, telling a Milwaukee radio station that he would sign an abortion ban in the state that includes exceptions for rape and incest.

Wisconsin's current abortion ban dating back to 1849 does not identify such exceptions. Abortion law in Wisconsin reverted to the legislation when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade earlier this year. The law makes abortion a felony and doctors who give abortions face up to six years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. The only exception it has is that doctors can give an abortion in order to save the life of a woman. That does not necessarily include a pregnancy from rape or incest.

Michels, who is co-owner of the construction company, has up until this point expressed his full support for Wisconsin's abortion ban as it exists now. “I’m not going to soften my stance on abortion,” Michels said at a campaign event this month. Michels also previously said that the current 1849 law is an "exact mirror" of his position.

But on Friday, Michels spoke with WISN Radio and told host Dan O'Donnell:

O’Donnell: "You have stated that your policy is an exact mirror of the current law that's on the books that outlaws abortions in Wisconsin and does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest. If you're elected governor, and if the presumably Republican legislature hands you a bill that says we are banning abortion in Wisconsin, but there will be exceptions for rape or incest. Would you sign it?"

Tim Michels: "Yeah, yes, I would sign that bill. And let me say a couple of things about that I am pro life and make no apologies for that. But 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 continued: "Yeah, so you're the first one that asked me this question. And I'm kind of surprised, being that there's been tens of millions of dollars spent against me on this issue in this election cycle. So I commend you, I guess this is breaking news on the Dan O’Donnell show. But no, I understand that the governor, you know, you're not the ultimate authority on things that you work with the legislature and the legislature, the State Senate, the Assembly, they're closest to the people. So if yes, that bill was put before me, I would sign it."

Michels' campaign may be making the decision based on recent polling. The most recent Marquette Law School poll found that more than 80% of respondents support exceptions for rape and incest in Wisconsin's abortion ban.

However, the same group of polling found that abortion policy is not a top priority for voters, who instead expressed more concern about inflation, schools and crime. The poll also found support one way or the other has remained the same. The MU poll found that 31% of participants believe abortion should be legal in all cases, 37% believe it should be legal in most cases, 26% believe it should be illegal in most cases, and 6% said it should be illegal in all cases.

Table 13: Do you think your state should or should not allow a woman to obtain a legal abortion if she became pregnant as the result of rape or incest?

Party IDShould allowShould not allow
Total9010
Republican8119
Independent9010
Democrat973

Table 11: Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases?

Poll datesLegal in all casesLegal in most casesIllegal in most casesIllegal in all cases
5/9-19/222938248
7/5-12/222836278
9/7-14/223137266

Michels' previous support for Wisconsin's abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest has become a target in the race for governor. Michels is running against Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who has been hitting Michels over his support for the abortion ban.

Evers meanwhile has advocated for removing the 1849 legislation and legalizing abortion in the way it was legal before the Supreme Court struck down Roe. The governor announced last Wednesday he is calling a special session to get the state legislature to issue a referendum to voters, asking if they want to legalize abortion.

Evers' campaign spokesperson said in a statement Friday regarding Michels' change in stance:

Tim Michels is trying to save his flailing campaign with a dishonest attempt to hide his stance on abortion, even after making it clear just two weeks ago that he’s “not gonna soften” his stance on opposing rape and incest exceptions and that he’s going to stick with his position “until the bitter end.” A mere two weeks ago, Michels even argued, “I think at this point, anyhow, I won’t do it, but at this point anyhow, I think it would actually be a negative.