MADISON (NBC 26) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and his fellow Democrats worked Tuesday to keep the spotlight on abortion ahead of next month's state Supreme Court election, resurrecting a bill that would repeal the state's 1849 ban on the practice.
Democrats introduced the bill in June days before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Republicans who control the Legislature refused to take up the bill, and the overturning of Roe put Wisconsin's abortion ban back in play.
Evers and other Democrats have been trying to keep the ban at the forefront of political discussion in the state in the hopes of persuading women to back the party's candidates. The state's Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, filed a lawsuit in June challenging the ban's validity, and Evers last year tried in vain to convince GOP legislators to allow voters to put referendums on the ballot to reject old laws and enact new ones. The move would have allowed voters to erase the ban themselves.
Democrats and abortion rights advocates have pinned their hopes on Kaul's lawsuit, which appears destined to land before the state Supreme Court. If liberal-leaning candidate Janet Protasiewicz wins the April 4 election against conservative-leaning Dan Kelly, liberal justices would gain a one-vote majority and could overturn the ban. Protasiewicz has signaled repeatedly on the campaign trail that she supports abortion rights.
Evers and a host of Assembly Democrats held a news conference Tuesday to announce they were reintroducing the bill to overturn the ban. The Democrats held the news conference hours before Protasiewicz and Kelly were set to debate at the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Evers called on Republicans to at least debate the bill that would repeal the abortion ban.
"We'll keep fighting like hell every day until Republicans heed the will of the people, until every Wisconsinite has the right to make their own health care decisions, until we guarantee our kids and grandkids won't grow up in a world where they have fewer rights than we did," Evers said.
Republicans released a bill last week that would create rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin's ban and clarify that abortions that protect the health of the mother would be allowed. But the bill wouldn't restore the same rights that were in place under Roe and Evers has promised he would veto the measure.
"I won't sign a bill that leaves Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe," the governor said Monday. "It grows increasingly frustrating to hear people suggest there's room for compromise when it comes to restoring the constitutional rights and freedoms of Wisconsinites that they've had for almost 50 years before that freedom was stripped from them in one fell swoop on one summer day."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos released a statement calling the news conference "a spectacle, with Governor Evers' hypocrisy on full display."
"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."
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu's spokesperson, Michael Pyritz, had no immediate comment.