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Wisconsin leaders react to Supreme Court decision eliminating abortion rights


Wisconsin leaders react to Supreme Court decision eliminating abortion rights

Jun 24, 2022 | 2:39 pm ET
By Ruth Conniff
Wisconsin leaders react to Supreme Court decision eliminating abortion rights
Wisconsin Democrats hold a press conference ahead of Gov. Evers' special session on June 22 to repeal the state's 1849 felony abortion ban | Photo by Luther Wu

Wisconsin politicians reacted swiftly to the news on Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which had established a federally protected right to abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. 

Republicans, who earlier this week refused to take up Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call to repeal Wisconsin’s 1849 felony abortion ban, were jubilant.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called Friday’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization “a victory for life.”

“Safeguarding the lives of unborn children shouldn’t be controversial,” Vos said in a statement. “Today’s decision reaffirms their lives are precious and worthy of protection.”

Vos said he agreed with the Court’s majority opinion that the authority to regulate abortion should rest with state legislatures and urged those who disagree with the decision “to remain peaceful.”

Wisconsin is not one of the 13 states that recently passed “trigger laws” in anticipation of the Court’s ruling overturning Roe. In those states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming — abortion bans are set to go into effect now that the Court has overturned Roe. 

In Wisconsin, as in Arizona, Michigan and West Virginia, an old abortion law that has been on the books since long before Roe (and, in Wisconsin, since before women had the right to vote) was unenforceable under the 1973 precedent. 

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has pledged not enforce the 1849 felony abortion ban. But Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has already stopped performing abortions in the state, since doing so could expose providers to future prosecution under an administration with a different philosophy.

Democratic legislators called the ruling “devastating” and “heartbreaking” and blamed Wisconsin’s Republican legislative leaders for gaveling in and out of Wednesday’s special session, leaving in place Wisconsin’s 1849 felony abortion ban which contains no exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

State Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Madison) tweeted, “It’s a damn shame Wisconsin Republicans could have protected women during @GovEvers special session on Wednesday ahead of today’s decision by #SCOTUS to overturn Roe but CHOSE not to.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) offered practical advice to her constituents: “Medication abortion is safe, easy to use, and private – every person of reproductive age should order one now at AidAccess.org. It costs about $100 and takes approximately 4 weeks to arrive, so it’s important to order now before you need it.”

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) issued a challenge to her Republican colleagues, daring them to vote against funding for food assistance, expanded Medicaid benefits, the Women Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program and the expanded child tax credit. 

“Since they want to force births on women, they need to make sure they have the resources to survive OUTSIDE the womb!” Moore tweeted.

Leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels called on fellow anti-abortion activists to “continue to compassionately work on winning hearts and minds” and pledged to teach women who must now carry unwanted pregnancies to term how to be better parents. Michels, who supports the abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest victims, said in his statement, “Life must always be protected. We should not demonize those who don’t believe that, but rather redouble our efforts to show how they can provide a high quality of life for their children.”

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who is currently in second place among  GOP candidates for governor, tweeted: “Now the abortion debate goes back to states like Wisconsin, where it always belonged. As a state we must hold firm for the voiceless and protect their right to life — and that means enforcing the laws we have on the books. I remain committed to my 100% pro-life stance.”

“The Constitution was designed to protect Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” tweeted businessman, veteran and self-described “conservative outsider” candidate for governor Kevin Nicholson. “The issue of abortion has been returned to the American people, where it should have always been.”

Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson called the Court’s decision “a victory for life and for those who have fought for decades to protect the unborn.”

“For almost 50 years the decision of nine unelected Justices prevented a democratically derived consensus on the profound moral issue of abortion. Now the debate can be returned to states,” Johnson stated.

All of Johnson’s would-be Democratic opponents put out statements decrying the decision and urging voters to act.

“Everything is on the line this November,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the leading Democratic Senate candidate, tweeted. “Anti-abortion politicians like Ron Johnson need to go. In the Senate, I’ll fight hard to protect women and make Roe the law of the land.”

“I’m sure we’re all gonna go out and protest,” Alex Lasry, executive for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and a top Democratic Senate contender said at a small business forum in Milwaukee on Friday. “We’re all going to post on social media and say, ‘Hey, we’re standing in solidarity with women and Planned Parenthood.’ That’s all gonna be great. But if we don’t show up to vote in November, none of that means [anything]. I don’t want to hear people saying ‘I stand with women, I stand with children who are dying of gun violence,’ if you’re not going to show up and vote.”

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, another Democrat vying to challenge Johnson in the fall, called the Supreme Court decision “an attack on all of our freedoms.” “But we are the majority,” she added, “and we’re not backing down without a fight.”

“We must expand our majority to abolish the filibuster, codify Roe v. Wade, and keep Mitch McConnell and the GOP in the minority,” said Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, another Democratic Senate contender.

Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said, “Republicans have taken Wisconsin women back to 1849, and it is Republicans who want to keep us there with support for having politicians interfere in the freedoms of women who will now have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers have had for decades.” 

“I ask people to join this fight with voices and their votes,” Baldwin added.

Declaring himself “proudly pro-life,” Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil tweeted, “Today’s decision will bring this important issue back to the states. This is a great victory for life.”

“I am alternately sickened and angered” by the Supreme Court decision, said Ann Roe, who is running against Steil in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Steil’s position is “an extreme view not shared by a majority of the people in our district, our state or our nation,”  Roe added. (Recent Marquette University Law School polling show more than 60% of respondents favor legal abortion.)

“It boils down to trust,” said Roe. ‘We must trust women to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their futures. And when we rob them of a constitutional right we are robbing them of their futures.”

Evers called Friday “an unfathomably grim day for our state and our country,” adding, “I am heartbroken — for the millions of Wisconsinites and Americans — the U.S. Supreme Court has abandoned and for our country and our democratic institutions.”

“I know many across our state and nation are scared — worried about their own health and about the health and safety of their family members, friends, and neighbors, who could very soon see the ability to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions stripped from them,” Evers added. He pledged to “fight this decision in every way we can with every power we have,” and to protect people’s right to make reproductive health care decisions “without interference from politicians or members of the Supreme Court who don’t know anything about their life circumstances, values, or responsibilities.”