Governor Calls for Special Session to Repeal Abortion Law

Gov. Tony Evers (D) has called on the Wisconsin Legislature to convene a special session to consider repealing an 1849 law limiting abortion in the state. Gov. Evers issued an executive order on June 8 directing the Legislature to convene on June 22. The Legislature adjourned its 2021-22 regular session on March 8.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) responded with a statement promising to “gavel out” of the special session immediately without taking action on the proposal. Although Wisconsin’s governor has the power to call a special session, the Legislature is not obligated to vote or otherwise act on a proposal.

Gov. Evers called for a special session after a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court was leaked, indicating that the court may vote to overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. That decision invalidated many state laws prohibiting or restricting abortion and established access to abortion as a constitutional right. Since Roe, Wisconsin’s criminal abortion statue has been unenforceable, but it was never repealed.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe, Wisconsin’s criminal abortion statute may take effect again. Under that law, any person (other than the mother) who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child, or who causes the mother’s death while taking such an action, is guilty of a felony. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, this prohibition is not applicable to “a therapeutic abortion that is performed by a physician; is necessary, or advised by two other physicians as necessary, to save the life of the mother; and, unless an emergency prevents, is performed in a licensed maternity hospital.”

Throughout his first term, Gov. Evers has called the Legislature into special sessions on a variety of issues including Medicaid expansion, education funding, and spending surplus revenue. In most cases, Republican leaders have quickly ended each session without legislative action. In early 2021, during his third annual state of the state address, Gov. Evers called for a special session to address problems with the state’s administration of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. That session resulted in a law including both reforms to the UI system sought by Gov. Evers as well as COVID-19 liability protections sought by Republican legislative leaders.