Democrats reintroduce abortion referendum, but not in time for April ballot

By: - January 24, 2023 5:24 am

Democrats introduced the resolution a day after protesters rallied at the Wisconsin State Capitol for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Photo by Baylor Spears/Wisconsin Examiner.

Democratic lawmakers reintroduced an advisory referendum Monday that would ask voters whether Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban — which makes no exceptions for rape or incest — should be repealed. The move comes a day after protesters marched to the Wisconsin State Capitol on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision to voice opposition to the recent loss of abortion protections. 

The resolution, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), is a continuation of Democrats’ efforts to reestablish abortion access in Wisconsin. Republicans blocked attempts by Democratic lawmakers last week to put the question on the upcoming April ballot.

“We are here today to reintroduce a resolution that would put this on the ballot and finally give the voters of Wisconsin a voice, a voice and a moment in which to say, ‘We want Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban overturned. We need to restore Roe, so that we can finally once and for all restore our freedom,’” Subeck said during a Monday press conference.

Any advisory referendum for the upcoming April ballot must be passed by Jan. 24, so the reintroduced resolution would be for the April 2024 ballot. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said last week that he didn’t want to put abortion on the April ballot because he didn’t think it would do anything to sway Gov. Tony Evers’ position on the issue. Evers supports a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Josh Kaul in Dane County Circuit Court that argues the 1849 abortion ban should be repealed because it conflicts with other laws passed after the ban. He has said he would veto any bill that would keep the pre-Civil War ban in place.

“Gov. Evers has taken a fairly extreme position. He doesn’t want to work with us. I favor exceptions for rape, incest and preserving the life of the mother,” Vos said during last week’s press conference. “I don’t think having a referendum — because he’s already been so stark in his comments — would have any impact on changing his mind.”

Republican lawmakers passed a nonbinding advisory referendum last week that will ask voters whether people should be required to work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits. The question could draw out conservative voters in April, who will also be voting in the competitive election for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.