Wisconsin Republicans approve bill for a referendum to ban abortions after 14 weeks of pregnancy

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a Republican bill that would call for a binding statewide referendum to ban abortion after 14 weeks of pregnancy — state law currently prohibits abortion after 20 weeks.

Associated Press

January 25, 2024

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Shae Sortwell stands and speaks while holding a microphone in his right hand, with other people seated in front of and behind him, in a room with marble pillars and masonry.

State Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, speaks during a Wisconsin Assembly floor session on Sept. 12, 2023. Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly on Jan. 245, 2024, passed a bill that would call for a binding statewide referendum on whether abortion should be banned after 14 weeks of pregnancy. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill on Jan. 25 that would call for a binding statewide referendum to ban abortion after 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Current Wisconsin law prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill’s supporters say closing the window after 14 weeks could save more fetuses from death. The proposal would set up a statewide referendum during April’s election asking voters whether the 14-week prohibition should take effect. The deadline would not apply in cases of rape and incest.

If voters approved the referendum, the prohibition would take effect the day after the results are certified.

“A vote against (the bill) is a vote against the will of the people,” Republican Rep. Amanda Nedweski, the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, said during a news conference before the floor session began.

Floor debate went on for more than two hours.

Democrats blasted the bill as government overreach, insisting that women should be allowed to make their own choices about reproductive care. They predicted that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would veto the bill even if the Republican-led state Senate also passes it.

“Politicians should not be making our reproductive health care choices for us,” state Rep. Lisa Subeck said. “These are decisions that are deeply personal. Every pregnancy is different.”

Republicans railed against the concept of abortion, saying society deserves a voice in setting boundaries on the practice.

“We as a society should protect that innocent life,” state Rep. Shae Sortwell said. “I wish the people of Wisconsin universally agreed with me on that.”

The Assembly ultimately passed the proposal 53-46. Ten Republicans voted against it.

It’s unclear whether it has enough support to pass in the Senate. Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said this month that it would be hard for his caucus to come together around an abortion bill that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would just veto. Evers has all but pledged to veto the measure if it reaches his desk, saying repeatedly that he won’t sign any bill that restricts reproductive health care.

Introducing the bill could earn Assembly Republicans points with their conservative base. Democrats have parlayed anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe vs. Wade into big election wins across the nation.

That dynamic was in full force in 2023 in Wisconsin, where Janet Protasiewicz won a state Supreme Court seat after repeatedly announcing on the campaign trail that she supports abortion rights. Her victory handed liberal justices a 4-3 majority on the high court.

Making matters worse for Republicans, a Dane County judge ruled in July that Wisconsin’s 174-year-old ban on abortion prohibits feticide — an attempt to kill an unborn child — but not abortions. Planned Parenthood, which had ceased providing abortion services following the U.S. Supreme Court decision, resumed operations in September following the Dane County ruling.

The case is on appeal and likely will end up before the state Supreme Court. Republicans will have tough time persuading Protasiewicz and the rest of the liberal majority to reinstate the abortion ban in full.

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