Protestors gather outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on June 24, 2022 in Madison, Wis., during a rally and march for abortion access. Earlier that day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. v. Wade, ending the federal constitutional right to an abortion. Wisconsin physicians have since operated under a near-total abortion ban from the 1800s. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)
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Wisconsin Republicans who control the Legislature are divided over whether to push for rape and incest abortion exceptions in the face of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ pledge to veto any bill that keeps the state’s 173-year-old ban in place.

Evers and Democrats are suing to overturn the 1849 law, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortions legal. The state law is a near-total abortion ban, with no exceptions for rape or incest and unclear language about protections for the health of the mother.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told The Associated Press on Thursday that he will push for passage of a bill granting clear exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother and in cases of rape and incest.

“I’m going to work hard to make it happen,” Vos said. “I think it’s the right public policy and I think it’s where the public is.”

His position puts Vos at odds not only with Evers, but also with fellow Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. He told the AP that he doesn’t intend to bring forward any bill in the Senate granting abortion exceptions because he knows it will be vetoed by Evers.

“I’m not sure why I would make my caucus go through such a difficult vote if the governor is going to veto it,” he said, adding that it was a “very personal issue” for many Senate Republicans based on their religious beliefs.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard said if Senate Republicans are struggling with the issue, “maybe they should reflect a little bit deeper and restore reproductive freedoms for people.”

Both the Senate and Assembly must approve an identical bill before it heads to the governor, who can either sign it into law or veto it. Evers vetoed bills last session that attempted to make abortions more difficult, part of a record-high number of vetoes he issued during his first term.

Vos said that while he opposes abortion, he is willing to compromise to allow for exceptions that would also clarify the 1849 law.

“Let’s see if there’s some middle ground where we can find consensus,” Vos said. “I don’t know why (Evers) wouldn’t do that other than politics.”

Evers reiterated to the AP on Tuesday that he would veto any bill that keeps the 1849 ban in place, even if it would mean that victims of rape and incest could not get abortions in Wisconsin. Clinics that had provided abortions prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned stopped scheduling abortions while the lawsuit challenging the ban plays out.

“I’d love to go back to where we were with Roe v. Wade,” Evers said. “That’s always been my position. And so the idea that I’d agree to essentially an 1849 law, that is a nonstarter.”

Republicans have twice rejected attempts by Evers to overturn the ban.

Absent the unlikely scenario of the Legislature approving a law change that Evers signs, the fate of Wisconsin’s abortion ban will likely rest with the state Supreme Court. An April election will determine whether conservatives maintain their 4-3 majority. If liberals win the seat, they would have a 4-3 majority starting in August.

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Scott Bauer

Scott Bauer / Associated PressCorrespondent at Associated Press

Scott Bauer is the head of the AP bureau in Madison, covering state government and politics.