Top Wisconsin Republican wants to put abortion laws on a future ballot

By HARM VENHUIZEN Associated Press/Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s top Republican wants to let voters decide whether to shrink the window of time in which women can get abortions.

Current state law bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, but Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday that he hopes to put a proposal on some future ballot that would lower the limit to somewhere between the 12th and 15th week.

“It’s probably the only way for us to put this issue to rest,” he told The Associated Press. “It has the idea of saying we’re letting the people decide.”

The state of abortion laws in Wisconsin was thrown into confusion in June 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout the country. The 2022 ruling reactivated an 1849 state law that conservatives interpreted as banning abortion, and abortion providers halted their operations for fear of prosecution. Planned Parenthood clinics in Madison and Milwaukee only resumed offering abortions in September after Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled that the 173-year-old abortion ban outlaws killing fetuses but does not ban abortions.

Schlipper reaffirmed that decision in a final ruling earlier this month, and a Republican prosecutor appealed the ruling on Wednesday. The case is likely to end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which recently flipped to liberal control.

Vos argued Wednesday that passing a new abortion law would put to rest the uncertainty of waiting for judges to interpret outdated laws.

Marquette University Law School polls conducted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have shown that a majority of Wisconsin residents opposed that ruling and support legalized abortion.

For a new abortion law to be put before voters, the proposal would first have to be passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. It could then be placed on the ballot in a statewide election as a binding referendum. Wisconsin law does not allow voters to place questions on the ballot, and Republicans who control the Legislature have previously rejected Evers’ calls to create a way for voters to repeal the 1849 abortion ban.

However, Evers is unlikely to go along with Vos’ proposal. The governor has vowed to veto any abortion legislation that would create stricter laws than existed under Roe, which only allowed states to regulate abortion after the point of fetal viability, which is typically considered to be 24-28 weeks along.

Vos isn’t the first Wisconsin Republican to call for a ballot question on abortion laws. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has repeatedly pushed for a referendum to determine when voters believe abortion should be banned, saying he thinks most people would not support allowing the procedure after the 12th week of pregnancy.

“I continue to believe that having ‘we the people’ decide the profound moral issue of abortion is the only way to find a reasonable consensus that most people will accept,” Johnson said in a statement Wednesday. “One of the benefits of a one-time, single-issue referendum would be the education and discussion that would occur leading up to it. Unfortunately, with an active court case and resistance in the Legislature, a referendum in 2024 is highly unlikely.”


Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.