So…Do Wisconsin Republicans Know What Happens When Abortion Is on the Ballot?

Wisconsin’s GOP assembly speaker wants to enact a 12-week abortion ban via ballot measure. There are a few things likely to stand in the way of this...

So…Do Wisconsin Republicans Know What Happens When Abortion Is on the Ballot?
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Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, abortion access in Wisconsin has been on a deeply confusing roller coaster. For over a year, a pre-Civil War law interpreted to be an abortion ban took effect, bringing abortion services in the state to a halt. Then, in April, Wisconsin voters elected a state Supreme Court judge who supports abortion rights, opening the door for the 1849 law to be reversed. And in September, after a circuit court judge ruled over the summer that the law in question is actually unrelated to abortion and concerns feticide, abortion providers in the state finally resumed services. The same judge reaffirmed the ruling earlier this month, but a Republican prosecutor appealed the ruling this week and the Associated Press reports that the case is likely headed to the state Supreme Court.

Now, ahead of any future ruling that will likely affirm abortion rights in the state, Wisconsin Republicans are preparing to launch their own offensive by proposing an abortion ballot measure to prohibit abortion after 12 weeks—AKA, a 12-week ban. (Abortion is currently legal in Wisconsin up until 20 weeks, which, in itself, is highly restrictive and un-ideal.) “It’s probably the only way for us to put this issue to rest. It has the idea of saying we’re letting the people decide,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the AP of his demand for a state-wide referendum this week.

But the thing is, I have no idea why Vos is suggesting this. Not to be a downer, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to be gained from an attempt at an anti-abortion ballot measure except failure and humiliation. Allow me to explain: First, to get on the ballot at all, Republicans would need to pass a proposal through the legislatures—which, easy enough, since the legislature is Republican-controlled. But then, Gov. Tony Evers (D) would need to sign it, and he’s made it clear he won’t: “I’ll veto any bill that makes reproductive health care any less accessible for Wisconsinites than it is right now,” Evers said in a Thursday statement.

And then, there’s the simple matter of what’s happened every time abortion has been put to a direct vote since Roe fell, in states across the country including states decidedly much redder than Wisconsin. Everywhere from Kansas and Michigan to Montana and Kentucky, reproductive rights have won on the ballot, no matter what crafty voter suppression tactics and psychologically jarring disinformation campaigns the anti-abortion movement throws at voters. More recently, Ohio voters passed an abortion rights amendment—and they did this despite months of Republican obfuscation, including a fascist effort to block ballot measures from taking effect without 60% of the vote, and the purging of thousands from voter rolls weeks before the election.

It’s not just Vos who supports a referendum to try to impose a 12-week ban. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has been calling for this since at least last year—when he argued that Wisconsin voters should be required to look at “fetuses in jars” in a science museum in Chicago before voting on such a measure. Yet, even Johnson—whose obsession with jarred fetuses tells me he isn’t exactly a voice of reason—concedes this is an uphill battle. “Unfortunately, with an active court case and resistance in the Legislature, a referendum in 2024 is highly unlikely,” he said in a Wednesday statement.

Any effort to put an anti-abortion measure on a ballot is dangerous and cause for concern, especially as voter suppression is an ongoing issue in Wisconsin. But all I’m saying is that it’s odd—one might even say… stupid?—for Republicans to suggest putting abortion on the ballot could save their cause, when that hasn’t been the case in any state so far post-Roe. It’s almost as desperate and misguided as their attempt to justify their abortion ban with a proposed $1,000 tax credit for fetuses earlier this year. As for Vos’ claim that a referendum on abortion could “put this issue to rest,” I have to laugh, seeing as last year, Wisconsin Republicans refused all of Evers’ efforts to create a referendum for voters to vote on the 1849 abortion law. With that context, Republicans’ latest effort to get abortion on the ballot is transparently not about ~settling~ anything, but rather, further restricting abortion.

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