Wisconsin governor calls special session with eye on allowing voters to repeal state abortion ban


Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during the Milwaukee Area Labor Council's annual Laborfest at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee on September 5, 2022.

Washington (CNN)Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called for a special legislative session next month for lawmakers to consider allowing voters to introduce ballot initiatives and referendums — with the ultimate goal of giving voters the decision to repeal the state’s 1849 abortion ban.

“At the end of the day, Wisconsinites — and women in particular — were not only stripped of their reproductive freedom, but they currently don’t have a right to enact the change they need to protect that freedom without having to get permission from the Legislature. That’s just wrong, and it’s time for us to change that,” Evers, a Democrat, said in a statement.o

Evers signed an executive order that calls lawmakers back to Madison for a special session at 10 a.m. on October 5.

    His order calls on lawmakers to consider whether to amend the state constitution to create a “statewide binding referendum process” that would allow voters to propose laws and constitutional amendments at an election or repeal state laws. The proposal would allow Wisconsinites to bypass the Legislature by voting directly to repeal the abortion law, according to the governor’s office. Voters also would be allowed to propose laws, constitutional amendments and referendums on any issue.

      Over the summer, abortion rights activists in Kansas achieved a resounding success when voters blocked an effort to change the state’s constitution that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion in the state.

        Currently, the constitutional amendment process in Wisconsin requires a proposal to pass two consecutive legislatures before it’s placed on a ballot for voters.

        Under the process laid out in the governor’s proposal, voters would file petitions with the Wisconsin Elections Commission and need the petition to be signed by a sufficient number of qualified electors verified by the agency. A vote would then be held during the general election at least 120 days after the petition was filed.

          In a joint statement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Evers “would rather push his agenda to have abortion available until birth than talk about his failure to address rising crime and runaway inflation caused by his liberal DC allies. Hopefully, voters see through his desperate political stunt.”

          The Wisconsin law bans nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, but makes exceptions for abortions necessary to save the pregnant person’s life.

          The law says “any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony,” which is punishable by up to six years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

          The governor had previously called a special session on June 22 to repeal the 19th century abortion ban, but the Republican leadership gaveled in and out without discussion or debate. CNN has reached out to the Legislature’s GOP leadership about whether the state’s Republicans will do the same next month.

            The ban was allowed to take effect after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

            Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul have filed a challenge against the ban, asking a state court to clarify that it has not gone back into effect and to deem it unenforceable.

            CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.