Milwaukee County abortion advisory referendum OK'd for April ballot

Abortion will be on the ballot in April. Not only in who you pick to sit on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the balance of power is at stake in this upcoming election, but also in a referendum.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday, Dec. 15 – 14-3 with one abstention – to place an advisory referendum question on the April 2023 ballot.

The referendum will ask county voters: "Should Wisconsin Statute 940.04, which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient, be repealed to allow legal access to abortion care?"

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When the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin's long-paused abortion law from 1849 sprung back to life. It offers one exemption: to save the life of the mother. The Wisconsin Supreme Court will likely weigh whether that ban is enforceable.

The referendum is advisory, so its outcome won't change state law.

Wisconsin Supreme Court 2022; (L-R) Brian Hagedorn, Rebecca Bradley, Ann Bradley, Annette Ziegler, Patience Roggensack, Rebecca Dallet, Jill Karofsky

"We do have old laws on the books. We have old laws on the books like do not murder, do not steal. Some of these are fundamental, so I hate to say that just because something is an old law that makes it a bad law," said Supervisor Deanna Alexander.

During debate, Supervisor Felesia Martin publicly revealed a secret of her past: "What I think, personally, about abortion is nobody’s business, quite candidly. And darn sure, it’s not the government’s place to tell me as a child, as a victim of incest. You’ll tell me I should have had that person’s baby, had that resulted in a pregnancy?"

Milwaukee County Supervisor Felesia Martin speaks during Dec. 15 meeting

"I feel bad for the supporters out in the public for this referendum question, and I feel bad for the advocates on this issue who are supportive of putting this on the ballot, because nothing’s going to change," Supervisor Steve Taylor said. "To think that putting it on the ballot in April is going to change anything, you’re fooling yourself."

"It is deeply, profoundly cynical to suggest that because our action today won’t result in an immediate change in state law that we shouldn’t do it," said Supervisor Ryan Clancy. "We do it because it’s the right thing to do."

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After debate, the board approved placing the question on the ballot.

"Having this on the ballot and having the people decide, they have the chance to vote for a Supreme Court justice who might share their views on another issue," said Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman. "We’re asking for views to be brought up, and that’s abortion."

The board also approves spending up to $16,500 to place that referendum on the ballot. Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said the cost is because they have to extend the ballot, which makes it longer.

Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors meets on Dec. 15

Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, votes on abortion advisory referendum:

  • Yes: Peter Burgelis, 15th District; Ryan Clancy, 4th District; Priscilla Coggs-Jones, 13th District; Willie Johnson Jr., 2nd District; Felesia Martin, 7th District; Juan Miguel Martinez, 12th District; Marcelia Nicholson, chair, 10th District; Shawn Rolland, 6th District; Steven Shea, 8th District; Anthony Staskunas, 16th District; Liz Sumner, 1st District; Sequanna Taylor, 5th District; Sheldon Wasserman, 3rd District; Dynago Zerpa, 14th District
  • No: Deanna Alexander, 18th District; Patti Logsdon, 9th District; Steve Taylor, 17th District
  • Abstained: Kathleen Vincent, 11th District