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WI Governor Calls Special Session to Attempt Repeal of 1849 Abortion Ban

State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison with dramatic blue sky and clouds.
Alex Prisacari/plasid - stock.adobe.com
State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

Gov. Tony Evers is calling the Legislature back to Madison this month to vote on repealing the state's 1849 abortion ban.

The move comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would kick the state's ban on nearly all abortions into effect for the first time in nearly fifty years.

In a news conference yesterday, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said the pre-Civil War ban will almost certainly face legal challenges.

"While that litigation is playing out," said Kaul, "and the possibility of criminal prosecution for providing access to abortion services looms over the heads of physicians, access to safe and legal abortion will disappear in Wisconsin."

State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu - R-Oostburg - says the legislature won't take any action on the proposed repeal. Under Evers' executive order, the Legislature will still convene on June 22.

Lawmakers currently are on break, and weren't scheduled to return to Madison until next year.

While Evers can summon the Legislature to Madison for a special session, he can't compel them to take up bills. Past special sessions have ended in mere minutes, as lawmakers quickly gaveled in and out without taking action on any measures.

Evers said the issue can't wait until 2023.

"We can't let our kids and grandkids grow up in a world where they have fewer rights than we did," said Evers. "That's not the future we promised them, and that's not the future they deserve."

State Sen. LaTonya Johnson - D-Milwaukee - noted that the 1849 law was passed before most Americans had won the right to vote.

"The moment the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade," said Johnson, "the clock in Wisconsin gets set back 173 years."

In a leaked draft opinion published by Politico last month, five of the U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices endorsed overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case guaranteeing the right to an abortion.

The justices could change their positions before the draft is published, and abortion is still legal in Wisconsin until a final ruling is handed down.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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