Published: September 21, 2022
By: Kyle Jones, Will Kenneally
Gov. Tony Evers has called for a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature to take up a constitutional amendment that would allow the public to vote on a referendum concerning the state’s controversial 1849 abortion law.
The pre-Civil War law criminalizes abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. Evers called a special session earlier this year to try and repeal the law, but the Legislature gaveled in and immediately gaveled out of the session without taking action.
The move comes after voters in Kansas passed a referendum protecting access to abortion in the state. A similar referendum is on the table in Michigan. Wisconsin’s constitution does not allow voters to introduce referendums to be voted on by the public. Evers called a special session in an effort to change that.
“Right now today, when it comes to reproductive freedom, the will of the people isn’t the law of the land,” Evers said. “But it damn well should be, folks, it really should be.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Wisconsin’s leading Republicans, suggested last week that voters should decide how the 1849 law is changed, an opinion that Evers shares.
“As of last week, this idea has new, bi-partisan support in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I agree with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. There’s a sentence for you.”
The new special session is set to be held on October 4.
To allow for Wisconsinites to introduce referendums, the state would have to change its constitution. That is a multi-year process, that involves the Legislature to sign off on the change in two different two-year cycles, and the voters to approve it on a statewide ballot.