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La Crosse County Voters to Express Opinion on State's Current Law on Abortion

La Crosse Tribune: Chloe Hilles | Published on 1/20/2023

a Crosse County voters will be asked to weigh in on one of the most divisive issues of our time: the legality of abortion. The County Board of Supervisors voted 16-10 to add an advisory referendum question about Wisconsin’s state law on abortion to the spring ballot.

Wisconsin’s state law on abortion — enacted in 1849 before women could serve in office or even vote — makes it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy unless it’s done to save a pregnant person’s life.

The question that will appear before voters on April 4 will read: “Should the Wisconsin legislature repeal or keep the state’s 1849 abortion ban that provides no exception in cases of rape or incest nor protect the health of the mother?”

Voters will be asked to select “repeal” or “keep” in response to the question. Results from the referendum are nonbinding and will be a temperature check for the state legislature on how the public feels about reproductive rights.

“Many of us in this room might have plenty of thoughts and information to share about the merits of abortion. We are not here tonight to discuss the merits of abortion, rather whether or not our voters should have an opportunity to have a say in the matter,” said supervisor Kim Cable, who introduced the resolution that was sponsored by all the female supervisors on the county board.

Supervisor Steve Doyle amended the wording of the question to add the words “or keep” during the meeting as a way to present the issue in a neutral fashion.

The 10 votes against adding the referendum were from supervisors Rob Abraham, Mike Baroni, Ralph Geary, Dan Hesse, Kevin Hoyer, David Hundt, Dennis Jacobson, Roger Plesha, Jack Pogreba and Ken Schlimgen.

“As a pro-life person, I can’t possibly vote for this and what a fiscal waste of money,” Hundt said during the meeting.

The county has estimated it will cost about $5,000 to add the referendum to the spring ballot. Those costs are primarily to support educational mailers to the public about the referendum and what either vote means.

To ask a referendum question when an election is not already taking place would be a larger fiscal burden to the county.

“To deny this referendum is the equivalent of voter suppression, telling voters to sit down, we don’t need to hear from you anymore,” said Supervisor Dillon Mader who voted for including the referendum.

Many of the supervisors who voted against adding the advisory question believe that this is not an issue the county is responsible for. However on Jan. 17, Republicans in the state legislature rejected adding a similar advisory referendum to all spring ballots across the state.

Rep. Jill Billings, who represents the 95th Assembly District, was part of the group of Democrats who put forward the legislation to add the referendum.

“Unfortunately, Republican Legislators rejected this request and continue to not only refuse to take action to restore this critical healthcare freedom, but refuse to even let the public weigh in via the ballot box,” Billings said in a statement. “I will continue to support legislation to overturn Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban and stand ready to support efforts to allow the public a direct voice on this important issue.”

Other counties in the state are considering similar referendums. Milwaukee County will ask voters if the 1849 law should be repealed on the spring ballot.

During the midterm elections this past November, Dane and Racine counties asked residents the same question at the voting booth. Eighty-five percent of voters in Dane County said they want the state to repeal the law, and 71% of voters in Racine voted for a repeal as well.