Wisconsin Democrats roll out bill to restore pre-Roe abortion laws

The bill would repeal the 1849 law and leave all other abortion laws standing.
Evers recently rejected a Republican bill that ended up being defeated by a bipartisan majority in the legislature.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 10:53 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A new Democratic-backed bill aims to restore abortion access laws in Wisconsin to what they were just prior to last summer’s decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade, Gov. Tony Evers said during a Tuesday news conference unveiling the proposal.

Introduced by two Madison lawmakers, the bill would strike down the 1849 abortion law that barred the procedure in all cases from the time of conception, except for when the life of the mother is at stake - as well as two references to the law elsewhere in the Wisconsin code. Because the abortion statutes passed since the Roe decision were not removed from the books, they would remain in effect.

“This bill will simply restore access to safe, legal abortion in Wisconsin to what it was on June 23, 2022—nothing more, and nothing less,” Evers said, pointing to the date before the 6-3 verdict in Dobbs v. Jackson struck down the high court’s previous rulings on abortion.

Evers recently rejected a Republican bill that ended up being defeated by a bipartisan majority in the legislature. It would have created exceptions allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest. The governor reiterated his stance that he would not back any proposal that restricted abortion access beyond what existed right before the Supreme Court decision.

“(Republicans) had every opportunity to do the right thing,” Evers said. “Even as we saw our state, our health care systems, our doctors, and Wisconsin women and families thrown into chaos and uncertainty, they refused (to repeal the 1849 law).”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos countered the governor’s read on the GOP bill, instead describing it as a reasonable middle ground between both sides of the issue that Evers refused to consider.

“The Democrats’ news conference was quite the spectacle, with Governor Evers’ hypocrisy on full display,” he said in a statement. Vos asserted Republican members of the legislature are willing to discuss finding a consensus with their counterparts across the aisle. “Instead, Governor Evers issues an ultimatum of no negotiating.”

One of the Madison legislators behind the bill, Rep. Lisa Subeck, reiterated the Democrats position that their proposal would not go any further toward increasing abortion access than what was law last year and that it was focused on restoring to women the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

“Abortion is healthcare,” she argued. “As long as doctors face the threat of prosecution for providing basic reproductive healthcare, and as long as extremist Republicans continue putting politics ahead of our rights, patients will not have access to the abortion care they need in our state.”

Beyond protecting abortion access, the bill’s other sponsor state Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) contended the 174-year-old law could push doctors, particularly OB/GYNs, to choose to practice in another state rather than face the type of prosecution her co-sponsor mentions.

“We are competing with other states that trust physicians and let them take care of their patients without political interference,” she said during the news conference, going on to accuse some politicians of threatening doctors and leaving a law in place that she says almost no one supports.

“We’re already losing out on the best and brightest med students, who don’t want to come to a state where they’re not going to get the medical training they need to save their patients’ lives,” Roys continued.

During the news conference, Subeck recounted meeting a mother recently who was upset because her daughter, who was supposed to finish her degree back in Wisconsin, has started taking interviews for out-of-state jobs. The woman told the Madison representative her daughter did not want to return to “a place where she couldn’t get the care she needs, should she need it, and a place where her future children may not be able to receive the care they need.”

Evers’ statement pointed to a Marquette Law School poll in which, he said, nearly six in ten Wisconsin voters back safe, and legal access to abortion, and more than 60 percent disapproved of the Supreme Court decision. The most recent MU poll, released in late January found 64 percent opposed overturning Roe.

“It’s growing increasingly tiring for people in this building to accept the premise that restoring Roe and access to safe, legal abortions are radical ideas that only Democrats support,” Evers continued, adding independents, Republicans, and Wisconsinites do too.

Tuesday’s news conference came just hours before the only debate between the two state Supreme Court candidates was set to kick off.

Evers, Roys, and Subeck were joined at the news conference by the minority leaders of both chambers of the legislature, Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine), along with Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul for the announcement.

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