Tony Evers
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Republicans have already rejected Evers’ call for another special session to debate a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to include a guarantee of reproductive freedom.  

Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called for a special session of the Legislature to consider a constitutional reform proposal that would allow voters to pass or repeal state laws, including the current ban on abortion rights—written in 1849.

It’s the latest move by Evers to put pressure on Republicans over abortion and keep the issue in the spotlight ahead of the election. Polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of Wisconsin residents support abortion rights. Evers is in a tight race with Republican Tim Michels, who supports the state’s ban, which has no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Wisconsin clinics stopped performing abortions after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as a legal fight plays out to determine whether the state’s pre-Civil War era abortion ban is in effect.

“Right now, today, when it comes to reproductive freedom, the will of the people isn’t the law of the land but it damned well should be, folks,” Evers said at a state Capitol news conference surrounded by Democratic state lawmakers.

Evers’ demand was quickly rejected by the state’s top Republicans, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who declined to take steps to allow Wisconsin voters to make up their own minds on abortion. Instead,  they called it a political stunt and promised to gavel in and gavel out the special session Evers put on their calendars for October 4. 

Evers noted that Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson recently voiced support for having voters in the state vote on adding exceptions to the state’s abortion law. But Wisconsin is not among the states that provide a mechanism for voters to pass or repeal state laws. The state only allows for constitutional amendments, which would need to be passed twice during consecutive legislative sessions and then go before the voters.

Under Evers’ proposal, that would have changed, allowing voters to submit petitions to the Wisconsin Election Commission to hold votes on adding or repealing laws. Under Evers’ plan,voter-circulated measures for the ballot would have different signature thresholds based on votes in the most recent race for governor:

4% to repeal a law, about 106,000 signatures

6% for new law, about 159,000 signatures

8% for constitutional amendment, about 212,000

For perspective, to recall someone from office, as was attempted in 2012 for then-Gov. Scott Walker, it takes signatures from 25% of voters in the last gubernatorial election, or about 663,000 signatures.

Evers’ call comes as voters in states where ballot measures are allowed are making clear they support abortion rights. Kansas voters last month rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions or ban abortion outright. Michigan voters will decide in November whether to put the right to an abortion into the state constitution.

Evers has repeatedly used the tactic of calling special sessions on hot-button political issues, including gun control and expanding Medicaid, to put Republicans on the spot. They have never acted on any of the special session calls, including one in June to repeal the state’s abortion ban.

Johnson, who is also up for reelection in November, supports exceptions for rape and incest that don’t exist under the current state law.

Evers and his allies have been hitting Michels over his support of the state’s abortion ban. Michels did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Evers proposal, which is modeled after moves in other states.

Even in the unlikely event that Republicans would go along with it, the soonest any such measure could be enacted would be 2023. It would have to pass the Legislature twice and be approved by voters. Then the actual ballot initiatives would have to be circulated and approved.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.