MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When the U.S. Supreme Court repealed in June a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, Wisconsin's 1849 law that bans the procedure except when a mother's life is at risk became newly relevant.
Republicans in the Legislature blocked an attempt by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to overturn the law. Yet there's disagreement inside the GOP over how to move forward when they return to the state Capitol in January.
The state's powerful Republican Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, supports reinforcing the exception for a mother's life and adding protections for instances involving rape and incest. Others, including GOP state Rep. Barbara Dittrich, say the law should stay as it is, without exceptions for rape and incest.
For decades, Republicans like Vos and Dittrich appealed to conservative voters — and donors — with broad condemnation of abortion. But the Supreme Court's decision is forcing Republicans from state legislatures to Congress to the campaign trail to articulate more specifically what that opposition means, sometimes creating division over where the party should stand.
Dittrich says consensus among her Republican colleagues on an alternative to the 1849 law would be a “tremendous challenge.”
“We once heard that the Democrats were the big-tent party," she said in an interview. "Now I would say the Republican Party is more the big-tent party on some of these issues.”
Of course, supporters of abortion rights are now a distinct minority in Republican politics. Just two GOP members of Congress — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — publicly support passing legislation to reinstate the protections of a woman's right to choose that the Supreme Court struck down in overruling Roe v. Wade. In Colorado, U.S. Senate candidate Joe O'Dea is the rare Republican running this year who backs codifying Roe.
But the debate over even a limited set of circumstances in which abortion could be legal spurred some division within the GOP in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
In Indiana, after a decade of stalled legislation on abortion, empowered Republicans passed the first near-total abortion ban since the Supreme Court ruling. But even that measure drew dissent within the GOP. Exemptions for rape and incest up to 10 weeks prevailed after 50 Republicans joined with all Democrats to include them.
Still, 18 Republicans voted against final passage of the bill, with roughly half saying the bill went too far and the rest saying it was too weak.
In South Carolina, meanwhile, Republicans have spent decades curtailing abortion access and there is ongoing discussion about a near-total ban. But some in the legislature voiced concern about pushing the current six-week ban further and urged deceleration, particularly after seeing voters in Kansas spike a ballot measure that would have allowed the legislature there to ban abortion.
“It’s like you are playing with live ammunition right now,” Republican Rep. Tom Davis told The Associated Press.
The Supreme Court ruling paved the way for severe abortion restrictions or bans in nearly half the states. Nine states currently have laws banning abortion from conception, with three more — Tennessee, Idaho and Texas — set to take effect on Aug. 25. Three states — Georgia, South Carolina and Ohio — have laws banning abortion when fetal cardiac activity is detected, at about six weeks. Florida's law bans abortion at 15 weeks, and Arizona's will as of Sep. 24.
Some experts say the inconsistency among Republicans about how to move forward underscores how new the debate is — and how unprepared the party was for it.
“Historically, GOP candidates and policy makers were in a politically convenient spot when it came to being ‘pro-life,’” University of Denver political science professor Joshua Wilson told the AP in an email.