If true, an 1849 Wisconsin law would go into effect, banning abortion across the state. Nearly half of Republicans also oppose interference.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally ran April 6, 2022 and is being republished amid a report that the US Supreme Court may be about to overturn Roe v. Wade, based on a leaked majority decision written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito.]
By this time next year, abortion could be illegal in Wisconsin and doctors who offer this care could be charged with a felony, even as new poll results show such government overreach is deeply unpopular.
Two of three likely voters in the US—including nearly half of Republicans—believe the government “should not interfere in reproductive rights” and that families and individuals should have control over their reproductive decisions, according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll. Conversely, only 28% of respondents believe the government should be able to make decisions about reproductive rights.
And yet, sometime in the next few months, the US Supreme Court will rule on a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, allowing them only in case of medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities. If the Court upholds the law, which has been blocked by lower courts, it would effectively contradict its own ruling in Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that banned states from prohibiting abortions before fetal viability, which occurs around 23 to 24 weeks.
In oral arguments in December, the 6-3 conservative court appeared ready to affirm the Mississippi law, with at least four right-wing justices indicating they might overrule Roe altogether and allow states to once again ban all abortions.
The consequences of such a decision could be devastating for women in Wisconsin, where an 1849 law banning abortion across the state remains on the books and would likely go back into effect if Roe were to be overturned. Under that state law, which provides no exception for victims or rape or incest, it would once again be a felony for medical providers to perform abortions, punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Most Voters Are Unaware of the Impending Threat to Roe v. Wade
While voters disapprove of the government interfering with a person’s reproductive choices, the survey of 1,193 likely voters also found that most Americans remain broadly unaware that a woman’s constitutional right to abortion is at risk of being taken away by Republicans.
Seventy-three percent of likely voters have heard little or nothing at all about the case before the Supreme Court, according to the poll.
When they do hear about it though, they oppose it. Fifty-one percent of voters said they oppose the Court overturning or weakening Roe, while only 39% said they support such an action.
The poll also found that 61% of likely voters, including six in 10 independents and nearly half of Republicans, would be very or somewhat concerned about the Court taking away access to safe and legal abortion.
Defending Abortion Rights Is Popular and Could Be a Political Winner
If the Court overturns Roe, abortion would almost certainly become illegal in more than 20 states, including Wisconsin. Under the nearly 200-year old law, the only situation in which abortion would be legal is for “self-administered abortions.”
Gov. Tony Evers, a staunch defender of reproductive rights who has vetoed nine anti-abortion bills while in office, called on Wisconsin lawmakers to repeal the 1849 law, but the Republican-led legislature has refused to do so. Democrats in the legislature introduced a bill to repeal the nearly-200 year old statute, but were blocked by Republicans.
Attorney General Josh Kaul has also said he would refuse to enforce the “draconian” law if it became active again.
Such stances appear to be popular, as 54% of respondents to the poll said they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who was upfront and outspoken about defending reproductive rights and protecting access to abortion. Only 23% of likely voters said they’d be less likely to vote for such a candidate, while another 23% said it wouldn’t affect their choice.
“Wisconsinites don’t want politicians interfering in our most personal, private decisions,” State Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Republican politicians continue to attack abortion rights and reproductive freedom, jeopardizing the health of Wisconsin women.”
Wisconsin Republicans Want to Outlaw All Abortions
Republican lawmakers in the Wisconsin legislature recently introduced a Texas-style abortion bill that would ban most abortions after six weeks and give citizens a $10,000 bounty “reward” if they sue someone privindig an abortion. The proposal makes no exception for victims of rape or incest, and only makes exceptions if not having the abortion would put the pregnant person at risk of irreversible physical impairment or death.
While Evers would veto such a bill even if it passes, he’s up for re-election this fall in what’s likely to be a competitive race. If one of his opponents wins, the bill could become law in Wisconsin in 2023.
His most likely opponent, Republican Rebecca Kleefisch has said she would sign such a bill. Kleefisch isn’t the only candidate running for governor who opposes abortion rights. Kevin Nicholson, another Republican running in the gubernatorial primary, has also indicated he would “sign legislation that prevents abortion and protects innocent life.” State Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) who is also running for governor, is a co-sponsor of the Texas-style ban.
“Governor Evers’ has stood strong against Republican efforts to ban abortions in Wisconsin by vetoing bill after bill that attemps to do so. Access to abortion is one the areas of clearest contrast between the Gov. Evers and his Republican opponents—All three support banning abortion without any exceptions,” said Hannah Menchhoff, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Rapid Response Director. “If a Republican wins, we could see a significant roll-back in abortion acccess in Wisconsin, which is why access to reproductive health care is sadly on the ballot this election.”
Roys, a vocal defender and protector of abortion rights, also believes the right to abortion could well be on the line this November.
“Most people don’t know that Wisconsin’s archaic 1849 complete abortion ban remains on the books — and if Roe v. Wade is rolled back, abortion will be treated as a felony,” she said. “That’s why it’s critical to reelect Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul in November.”
Whether the Republican war on abortion rights succeeds or not remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: A majority of American voters believe abortion should remain legal.
Survey Methodology: From March 30 to April 2, 2022, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,193 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.
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