Evers call for Wisconsin abortion referendum quickly rejected

Jury selection began Tuesday morning and finished before before noon.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 12:34 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 10:57 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Wisconsinites should have their opinions on abortion law heard at the ballot box, Gov. Tony Evers insisted Tuesday morning. The governor, along with fellow Democrats, want the state legislature to put a non-binding, advisory referendum before the people during the April election.

“I know where Wisconsinites stand on this issue. Everyone in the State Capitol knows where Wisconsinites stand on this issue,” Evers tweeted. “Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support #Roe and safe, legal access to abortion.”

Any statewide advisory referendum would need the approval of the GOP-dominated Assembly and state Senate before appearing on voters’ ballots. The legislature has until Jan. 24 to sign off on a referendum question but did not need that long to decide on the governor’s proposal. The Republican leadership soon rejected the plan, although it did add a referendum question on welfare eligibility.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and subsequent rulings that enshrined a right to an abortion, Wisconsin law reverted to the 1849 law that remained on the books. The law prohibits nearly all abortions from the time of conception through birth, including in cases of rape or incest. It carves out an exception for instances where two doctors agree that the mother’s life is in jeopardy.

The governor accused Republicans lawmakers of either treating a repeal of that law as a “radical” act or that there is room for a compromise on abortion rights, declaring “[t]hat’s wrong-headed and they know it.”

Last month, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) told the Associated Press he would back a proposal that would clarify exceptions for the life of the mother and inject exceptions for rape and incest, saying, “I’m going to work hard to make this happen.” His counterpart in Wisconsin’s upper chamber – and fellow Republican – Senate Maj. Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) indicated around the same time that he would not move any measures involving abortion exceptions because he suspects Evers would veto all of them.

“I’m not sure why I would make my caucus go through such a difficult vote if the governor is going to veto it,” he said at the time, adding that it was a “very personal issue” for many Senate Republicans based on their religious beliefs.

FILE - Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers addressed...
FILE - Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers addressed a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the Governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol, Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis.(Andy Manis | AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)

In its statement, the governor’s office recounted the steps it has taken in the wake of the Dobbs decision to change abortion law in Wisconsin. Shortly after abortion rights were struck down, Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both of whom were running for reelection at the time, called on state lawmakers, many of whom also had their names on ballots, to repeal the law. Evers also called a special session directing both houses of the legislature to take up the issue. Like many other special sessions ordered by the governor, lawmakers ended the session moments after it began.

Evers argued a referendum would let Wisconsin voters let their representatives know where they stand on the issue. His office pointed to a statement from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in which the senator suggested Wisconsin hold a binding referendum, something that is not allowed under Wisconsin law. The only binding statewide referenda allowed: constitutional amendments, ratifying an enacted law that is contingent on voter approval, or ratifying a suffrage law. Otherwise, statewide questions are advisory only, to gauge public opinion.

His statement on the referendum cited a Marquette Law School poll released in September, which found more than six in ten voters in the state opposed overturning the Roe decision. Two subsequent Marquette polls, asking the same question were held in the runup to the November election. The poll conducted just prior to Election Day found 55 percent of voters opposed overturning the 1973 ruling and 37 backing the Dobbs decision. That number had tightened slightly from Marquette’s previous poll numbers which put opposition at 60 percent or higher while a third or fewer voters supported ending abortion rights in the United States.

Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.