Reading Time: < 1 minute

Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion is the oldest in the nation that could go into effect post-Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health advocacy and research organization.

While it is not clear if the ban is in effect currently — Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul are challenging that in court — clinics have stopped providing abortions amid the legal uncertainty. 

The law makes it a felony for anyone besides the mother to “intentionally (destroy) the life of an unborn child.” The law has an exception for “therapeutic abortions” to “save the life of the mother,” but the meaning of that antiquated term is unclear.

Several other states also have bans from the 1800s that were left on the books following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, including Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.  


Wisconsin Watch: Guttmacher Institute Statement to Wisconsin Watch

Wisconsin Public Radio: A 172-year-old abortion law could go back into effect in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Department of Justice: Gov. Evers, AG Kaul Announce Direct Legal Challenge to Wisconsin’s 1800s-era Criminal Abortion Ban

Wisconsin Watch: Wisconsin’s 173-year-old ban allows only life-saving ‘therapeutic abortions.’ No one knows what that means.

USA Today: After Roe v. Wade, abortion bans from the 1800s became legal matters in these states

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Erin Gretzinger joined Wisconsin Watch as a reporting intern in May 2022. She is a journalism and French major at UW-Madison and will graduate in spring 2023. Erin previously worked for the Wisconsin State Journal as a reporting intern and served as the 2021-22 editor-in-chief at The Badger Herald. She is a recipient of the Jon Wolman Scholarship, the Sigrid Schultz Scholarship and the Joseph Sicherman Award Fund for her academic and reporting work.