Evers calls for special session over Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is calling another special session of the Legislature.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 10:00 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 11:40 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is calling another special session of the Legislature to urge state lawmakers to repeal the pre-Civil War law that outlawed abortion in the state.

Evers announced Wednesday that he would be calling lawmakers together at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, to create a path for Wisconsinites to repeal the state’s abortion ban. Wisconsin reverted back to its 1849 abortion ban after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Evers wants to put the decision up to the people. The governor argued that unlike other states, including Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, Wisconsin does not allow voters to change state laws by a referendum.

“At the end of the day, Wisconsinites—and women in particular—were not only stripped of their reproductive freedom, but they currently don’t have a right to enact the change they need to protect that freedom without having to get permission from the Legislature,” Evers said. “That’s just wrong, and it’s time for us to change that.”

Evers noted that for a constitutional amendment to be adopted in Wisconsin, an identical amendment proposal must pass by two consecutive legislatures before it is sent to Wisconsin voters to approve in an election.

Evers’ proposal would create a statewide binding referendum process through a constitutional amendment. Voters would need to file petitions with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to hold a vote on proposed state laws and constitutional amendments, or to repeal current state laws. Evers explained that if a sufficient number of signatures is validated by the WEC, a vote would be held at the next general election. It would need to be at least 120 days after the petition is filed. A simple majority vote is required to decide the referendum.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) released a joint statement Wednesday, calling Evers’ order a “political stunt.”

“Governor Evers would rather push his agenda to have abortion available until birth than talk about his failure to address rising crime and runaway inflation caused by his liberal DC allies. Hopefully, voters see through his desperate political stunt,” the pair stated.

Gov. Evers also called out U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson during his speech, saying that the Republican senator suggested last week that voters should get to decide the fate of the Wisconsin’s abortion ban and have the ability to challenge it. NBC15 reached out to Sen. Johnson for a statement, who argued that the concerns from Wisconsinites he hears from are in issues like inflation, gas prices, baby formula shortages and the border.

“For almost fifty years the decision of nine unelected Justices in Roe vs Wade prevented a democratically derived consensus to be formed on the profound moral issue of abortion,” Johnson said. “The Dobbs vs Jackson decision will now allow that democratic process to unfold in each state to answer this fundamental question: ‘At what point does society have the responsibility to protect life?’ Because of the profound nature of this decision, we should not rush the debate, but instead allow enough time for a thorough and thoughtful discussion.” (emphasis his)

Evers declared on June 8 that he would be ordering a special session, before the landmark Roe v. Wade case was overturned. Republican leaders convened later that month and immediately adjourned without taking action. According to reporting from the Associated Press, the session lasted just 14 seconds.

Currently, the law, which was enacted in 1849, makes it a felony to destroy the life of an unborn child from the time of conception until its birth. The law creates an exception for when two doctors agree that the mother’s life is in jeopardy but does not include carveouts for instances of rape or incest.

clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a correction submitted by the governor's office, noting that the special session would take place on Oct. 4, not Oct. 5.