Wisconsin Republicans Propose Exceptions to 1849 Abortion Law

March 15, 2023

Republicans in Wisconsin’s state legislature introduced a bill Wednesday to create exceptions to the state’s draconian abortion ban, enacted in 1849. 

Current law makes it a felony to perform nearly all abortions. Republicans, who have state legislative majority, included exceptions for rape and incest to their new bill, but only during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. The bill does not say how the determination would be made that someone was the victim of rape or incest.

The legislation would also clarify when abortions that protect the health of the pregnant person would be allowed. It does not put a time limit on “serious” health risk exceptions.

However, the bill does not resurrect all the of the rights to abortion that were in place under Roe v Wade, which the Supreme Court overturned with its decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Healthcare last June.

The new legislation is in response to a pending lawsuit by Wisconsin’s Attorney General, a Democrat, that seeks to overturn the 1849 abortion ban entirely.

Gov. Tony Evers (D), who supports the lawsuit, rejected the Republican proposal, saying, “I won’t sign a bill that leaves Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was hopeful that Evers and other Democrats would be open to clarifying the health of the mother exception, as well as rape and incest exceptions for abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. 

But during his reelection campaign last year, Evers said he would veto any bill that does not return the state’s abortion law to pre-Dobbs liberties. The governor has twice called special sessions of the legislature seeking an effort to repeal the 1849 abortion ban, and to create a way to put the question before voters. Republicans rejected both of those efforts without any vote in the legislature. 

The new abortion bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R), said there were not yet enough Republican votes for it to pass the Senate. Vos said he was confident he could get support from 50 of the 64 Assembly Republicans.

PHOTO: Wisconsin State Capitol

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