Leaked opinion that would repeal Roe v. Wade rocks Wisconsin races for governor, US Senate

The leaked US Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade could immediately reinstate Wisconsin’s 173-year-old abortion ban, placing the issue front-and-center in the state’s 2022 campaigns for the US Senate and governor.

The opinion won’t be final until it’s formally issued by the court, and until that time, abortion remains legal in Wisconsin and across the country.

But should the opinion take effect, the US Senate could face the question of whether to write abortion rights into federal law, While Wisconsin’s governor could decide to either push for changes to Wisconsin’s abortion ban or simply leave it in place.

The US Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to a national poll conducted in January by Marquette University Law School, 72 percent of voters oppose overturning Roe v. Wade compared to just 28 percent who favor overturning it. An October 2021 Marquette survey of Wisconsin voters found 61 percent said abortion “should be legal in all or most cases” while 34 percent said it “should be illegal in all or most cases.”

Here’s how candidates for the two offices reacted to the leaked opinion:

Governor

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers told reporters in La Crosse Tuesday that the ruling, if made final, would be “horrible” for Wisconsin.

“To say suddenly it’s going to be such that people are going to have to go across the border in order to get health care? That’s just crazy,” Evers said. “We’re going to work to try to change it.”

While Evers has the power as governor to veto Republican bills that would restrict abortion rights, he can’t remove a state abortion ban that’s already law. Evers joined 16 other Democratic governors in a letter to congressional leaders calling on them to pass a measure that would codify Roe in federal law.

If that doesn’t happen, and if the US Supreme Court’s draft ruling becomes final, Evers said the reinstatement of Wisconsin’s abortion ban would quickly become a state issue.

“The people of Wisconsin need to figure that out right now,” Evers said. “I don’t think the people of Wisconsin want to make criminals out of women or the physicians that serve them.”

Wisconsin’s long-dormant abortion ban would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.

Evers’ Republican opponents all celebrated the leaked opinion shortly after it was released.

“BREAKING → SCOTUS will overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s about time!” tweeted former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefischwho has been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life.

Construction executive Tim Michels, who joined the race for governor last week, said he and his wife Barbara had “long worked and prayed for this moment.”

“We hope this news proves to be true,” Michels tweeted. “As governor, I will always work to protect the unborn, while working to win hearts and minds.”

Former US Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, one of two candidates for maintained endorsed by the anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin, issued a similar remark.

“I pray this is true,” Nicholson tweeted.

State Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, the other candidate backed by Pro-Life Wisconsin, also voiced optimism.

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“I hope this true,” read a tweet from Ramthun’s campaign. “The sanctity of life should never be questioned.”

US Senate

Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson, who has previously criticized Roe v. Wade and said people could move if they don’t like abortion restrictions in their state, didn’t comment on the substance of the leaked opinion. Instead, Johnson criticized the leak itself.

“The goal of this breakthrough is to intimidate sitting Supreme Court justices. This is yet another example of how the left radicals intend to ‘fundamentally transform’ America,” Johnson tweeted. “They are fundamentally destroying our country — they must be stopped.”

The leading Democrats vying to replace Johnson all voiced support for passing a federal law that would supersede state abortion bans like the long-dormant ban in Wisconsin.

“It has never been more clear why we need to abolish the filibuster and take immediate action to protect every person’s right to make decisions about their own bodies,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said in a written statement. “Republicans have proven they will stop at nothing to strip every individual of their right to an abortion. We must act now.”

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said the leaked opinion could be Democrats’ last warning. She also urged the party to end the US Senate’s filibuster and codify Roe.

“What I am so frustrated with is that we have had almost 50 years to codify this into law,” Godlewski told reporters Tuesday morning. “The Democrats have had the White House, they have had the House, they have had the Senate. And yet we have not gotten this done.”

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry said the leaked opinion was an assault on women’s rights, adding that women deserve the right to control their own reproductive freedom.

“I’m enraged and grieving, not just for my wife and daughter, but for women in Wisconsin and all across the country,” Lasry said in a statement. “Right this very minute, Senate Democrats need to show urgency. We must overturn the filibuster in order to protect the fabric and freedom of all Americans.”

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson also challenged Democratic leaders to act immediately.

“The Supreme Court has shown their hand,” Nelson said in a statement. “Senator Chuck Schumer must call a special session to blow up the filibuster and codify Roe now.”

US Senate candidate Steven Olikara endorsed a different change.

“The way we fill the Supreme Court has lost all credibility,” Olikara said in a statement. “The lives of millions of people shouldn’t hinge on the personal health of Justices in their 80s. It’s time for Supreme Court term limits.”

The US House passed a bill last year that would protect a person’s ability to decide to continue or end a pregnancy and would enshrine into law health care providers’ ability to offer abortion services “prior to fetal viability.” The bill would also prohibit restrictions on abortion after fetal viability “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

While the plan passed the House largely along party lines, it failed in the US Senate on a 46-48 procedural vote. Democratic US Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who co-sponsored the proposal, called on senators to revive it.

“If #SCOTUS is going to legislate from the bench and turn back the clock 50 years on #RoeVWade, then the Senate needs to pass my Women’s Health Protection Act,” Baldwin tweeted. “And if we need to eliminate the filibuster to get it done, we should do that too.”

Editor’s note: WPR’s Hope Kirwan contributed to this report.

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