MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called a special session for the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the state’s dormant 173-year-old law banning abortion, a move that’s more likely to win him political points with his Democratic base in a reelection year than it is to result in a repeal.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the Senate would not take any action in what he called “another blatantly political special session call from this partisan governor.”
Republicans legislators support banning abortion and are not obligated to take any action during the special session. They ignored other special session that Evers called asking them to take action on issues such as gun control, increasing school funding and sending rebate checks to taxpayers.
“This isn’t about politics – it’s about empathy, compassion, and doing the right thing,” Evers said in a statement. “It’s about making sure the people we care about get the healthcare they need when they need it.”
All of the Republicans running in the Aug. 9 primary to challenge Evers support a total ban on abortion, with no exceptions for circumstances such as rape or incest. Republicans are expected to retain their strong legislative majority following the November election.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not immediately reply to messages seeking their reaction to Evers’ special session call. Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in May that he would like to see exceptions for rape and incest if Wisconsin’s ban on abortion takes effect, signaling future political fights over the scope of the ban should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Evers called on the Legislature to meet on June 22 to repeal the dormant 1849 law that makes abortion a criminal offense except to save the recipient’s life. If the Supreme Court repeals repeals Roe, as was detailed in a leaked draft opinion, the state law would go back into effect.
“We can’t wait for this decision to arrive on our doorstep,” Evers said. “We must act now.”
Wisconsin’s abortion ban law is expected to be challenged in court should Roe be overturned. One major question is how that ban would interact with a related state law passed in 1985 that prohibits abortions after the fetus has reached viability but has an exemption for women whose health could be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Abortion-rights groups have argued for a broad interpretation of that exemption to include a woman’s emotional and mental health.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, has said he thinks the 1849 law is too old to enforce. He has also said he will not investigate or prosecute doctors who perform abortions if the old law does take effect again.
Evers and other supporters of abortion rights have pointed to polls that show widespread support for keeping abortion legal. A Marquette University Law School poll last year found that 61% of Wisconsin residents support the right to an abortion “in all or most cases.”
“It’s time to listen to the people of Wisconsin and to act to protect our freedoms, our health, our lives and our futures,” said Tanya Atkinson, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, in a statement supporting Evers’ special session call.
Julaine Appling, president of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, dismissed the special session call as nothing more than “partisan shenanigans.”