Wisconsin Voters Face Life-or-Death Decision in April 4 Election

The outcome will determine the direction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court regarding abortion for years to come

The sunrise is seen behind the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
The sunrise is seen behind the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison (photo: Szymon Raczkowiak / Shutterstock)

Wisconsin voters will go to the polls April 4 to face a clear pro-life/pro-abortion choice, with the balance of power on the state Supreme Court at stake, based on the outcome of the state’s Feb. 21 primary.

Pro-abortion Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, faces off against pro-life former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly for a 10-year seat on Wisconsin’s highest bench. 

Among issues likely to come before the court is the fate of Wisconsin’s original law banning abortion except to prevent the death of the mother. The 1849 statute, which the Legislature had never repealed in the almost 50 years of Roe, gained a new lease on life with last June’s Dobbs decision, which allowed states once again to regulate abortion. Pro-abortion Democrat Governor Tony Evers has led a campaign in the courts to throw out the law, which Wisconsin’s pro-life legislature did not repeal. The current seven-member Supreme Court is split 4-3 in favor of life but, with the retirement of a pro-life judge, the tribunal’s balance-of-power could shift in the opposite direction.

In the Feb. 21 primary, pro-abortion candidates Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell ran against pro-life candidates Kelly and Judge Jennifer Dorow.

Pro-life and pro-abortion organizations are focused on the April 4 race. Wisconsin Right to Life spokesperson Gracie Skogman pledged the organization would redouble grass root efforts to mobilize Wisconsin’s pro-life base as well as to make more voters aware of the stakes in the election. “At Wisconsin Right to Life, we will more than double our efforts to reach out directly to the pro-life base and ensure they know the vital importance of this election.” Citing the importance of getting out the vote for Daniel Kelly in an off-year election in early April just before Easter, Skogman stressed the need to convey “the message … to every pro- life group, church and community across the state.” 

Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund Political Action Committee Director Matt Sande echoed the sentiment, saying:

It is imperative that Wisconsinites elect a justice who will serve fairly and impartially, respecting and upholding the rule of law. That justice is Daniel Kelly. The same cannot be said for Janet Protasiewicz, who has consistently and brazenly pronounced her policy preferences on matters likely to come before the high court, including abortion and redistricting. Her public support for ‘abortion rights’ is a clear indication that her thumb will be on the scales of justice when it comes to adjudicating our current law abortion ban.

Badger State pro-lifers have their work cut out for them. With 99% of the vote in for the Feb. 21 primary, Protasiewicz polled 446,174 votes, almost double Kelly’s 232,619, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Pro-life candidate Jennifer Dorow captured 209,822 votes, while pro-abortion Everett Mitchell pulled in 71,862 votes. Pro-life voters will need to unite behind Kelly in the face of a likely influx of out-of-state groups to promote Protasiewicz who, according to the New York Times, already enjoys the near unanimous support of Wisconsin’s Democratic establishment. 

Wisconsin judicial elections are traditionally nonpartisan, with candidates focusing on their experience and philosophy so as not to prejudge future cases that could come before them. Justice Kelly’s commitment to “preserve constitutional rights, uphold the rule of law, and prevent judicial activism” is taken by Wisconsin pro-lifers as supportive of their position. Protasiewicz has voiced public support for “abortion rights,” according to pro-lifers. 

Pro-abortion forces have been busy across multiple states, seeking to convince state supreme courts to create a “right to abortion” under state constitutions to replace the federal “right to privacy” protecting abortion overruled in Dobbs.