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Democrats in Wisconsin Introduce Bill to Restore Abortion Rights in State

Wisconsin reverted to a draconian anti-abortion law from 1849 after “Roe” was dismantled.

Abortion rights supporters rally in the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capital in Madison, on January 22, 2022.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Democratic lawmakers in the state legislature introduced a bill earlier this week that would restore abortion rights in Wisconsin to where they stood before the overturn of Roe v. Wade last summer.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe, several states reverted back to abortion statutes that were in place prior to that ruling. For Wisconsin, that meant a law passed in 1849 — just one year after the state was established — that almost completely bans abortion.

The law only allows abortions in the state prior to the ambiguous stage of “quickening” (the time when a fetus can be felt moving), and makes no exception for rape or incest. A person can only get an abortion after that point if a pregnancy threatens their life.

The bill that Democrats and Evers introduced on Tuesday would essentially repeal the 1849 statute and return abortion rights precedents to where they were in Wisconsin up until last year.

“I’m proud to join Legislative Democrats in continuing our fight to restore access to reproductive freedom in Wisconsin with a clean repeal our state’s 1849-era criminal abortion ban,” Evers said about the bill.

Rep. Lisa Subeck (D), the sponsor of the state Assembly version of the bill, celebrated the legislation for restoring people’s reproductive rights and ability to choose for themselves, with their doctors, the path that is right for them.

“Every pregnancy and every situation is different,” Subeck said. “We believe in the rights of individuals to make our own reproductive health care decisions, in consultation with our families, our physicians, those we choose to involve, but without interference from politicians.”

The bill, though lauded by Democrats, has almost zero chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature, which is dominated by anti-abortion lawmakers. Although Evers and other statewide officials have been elected in two straight election campaigns, Republicans control nearly two-thirds of the seats in both the state Senate and state Assembly due to gerrymandered districts they drew in 2011 and 2021.

Republicans, perhaps recognizing that most of the state’s voters oppose keeping the 1849 law intact, have tried but so far failed to come up with a consensus on how to change it. A bill they introduced last week would add exceptions for rape and incest, and clarify definitions for when a person’s life is at risk, but would keep other provisions of the law untouched.

In a Marquette University Law School poll from last fall, Wisconinites were asked whether they favored the overturn of Roe v. Wade. A majority (55 percent) said they opposed the action by the Supreme Court, while just over a third of residents in the state (37 percent) said they were in favor of it.

Evers recognized that Republicans would oppose the bill, in spite of the fact that most Wisconsinites would likely back the Democrats’ proposal.

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

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