Wisconsin Voters Face Life-or-Death Decision in Tuesday Election

At stake is the validity of Wisconsin’s original prolife statute from 1849

Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capitol (photo: TouchingPixel / Shutterstock)

Wisconsin voters head to the polls on Tuesday, April 4, for what Gracie Skogman of Wisconsin Right to Life calls the state’s “most vital election for the pro-life vote in decades.” Former Justice Daniel Kelly faces Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz for a vacancy on the state Supreme Court likely to determine the panel’s current expected 3-3 split on abortion.

At stake is the validity of Wisconsin’s original prolife statute from 1849 which, after the reversal of Roe v. Wade last summer, could be in force. Wisconsin has a prolife legislature but its pro-abortion governor has led the campaign against the law, possibly expecting the state’s highest court to discover a state-level “right” to abortion to replace Roe.

Although Wisconsin judicial elections are theoretically nonpartisan, Protasiewicz has gained the endorsements of pro-abortion Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore. Women’s March is among the out-of-state pro-abortion groups focused on the campaign.

Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin FamilyAction’s Political Action Committee have both endorsed Kelly, expecting his judicial philosophy to uphold prolife legislation.

The Register spoke with Julaine K. Appling, President of Wisconsin Family Action, about the election.

Wisconsin’s April 2 Supreme Court election will likely decide the future of prolife legislation in the Badger State. What’s at stake?

Liberals are doing their best to make abortion one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue in our state Supreme Court race. The self-described liberal progressive in the race, Judge Janet Protasiewicz, is on the record saying she is personally pro-choice and believes a woman has a “right” to choose to abort her unborn child. Her campaign and outside groups supporting her are alleging that self-described Justice Daniel Kelly wants to ensure no woman ever has a right to abortion. Justice Kelly has said nothing related to his position on life specifically related to this campaign. He has consistently said he will treat any case before him as he always does, looking at the facts of the case, the pertinent law, including the original intent of the U.S. Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution, and then will apply the law impartially.

Currently, our state’s pre­-Roe law that bans most abortions is in effect, but Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, at the behest of Governor Tony Evers, filed a lawsuit right after the Dobbs decision to declare it unenforceable. That case is still sitting in the Dane County Circuit Court with very little activity having taken place since it was filed. Ordinarily in such a case, a Dane County judge would have slapped an injunction on the enforcement of the ban almost immediately. In all likelihood, this hasn’t happened and the case is being purposefully slowed down hoping that this election results in the liberal winning the open seat on our Supreme Court, virtually assuring that the 1849 law will be ruled unenforceable. Beyond that, one could reasonably assume that a liberal majority on our high court will also “discover” a “right to abortion” in the “penumbra and emanations” of our state constitution. In the meantime, we rejoice every day that the ban remains in place because that means babies are being saved and women are being spared the trauma of abortion.

Apart from that law, what other prolife policies might be challenged in the state Supreme Court?

I believe if the Wisconsin Supreme Court does a 180 turn to a 4-3 liberal majority, any abortion restriction will ultimately be challenged, including our 20-week ban, our ultrasound requirement, our 24-hour waiting period, and our telemed ban. More will be in the pipeline of lawsuits liberals are preparing.

What about parental rights?

Our law currently requires one parent, foster parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling who is at least 25 years old to give permission for the abortion. The law allows minor to bypass parent by obtaining a court approval. Of course, right now with our pre-Roe law being enforced, these provisions are not — or at least shouldn’t be — in play.

Aside from abortion, what other pro-life/pro-family issues might face state court challenges?

Basically everything conservatives have worked for and gained ground on over the last 10-12 years will be at stake. School choice, parental rights, biological boys being able to play on girls’ sports teams, election reform, religious freedom, all aspects of the LGBTQ+ agenda, further erosion of the definition of marriage and more are all vulnerable. These are all issues liberals have wanted for years but have been unable to advance through the state legislature because Republicans have held strong majorities in both our Assembly and Senate and for eight years we had a conservative governor in Scott Walker. Their efforts were largely thwarted. They see this open seat on our state’s highest court as their best opportunity to advance their entire agenda — that’s why this race has garnered national attention and ridiculous amounts of money from interested parties and stakeholders across the country.

What are your takes on the candidates?

Wisconsin Family Action PAC endorsed Dan Kelly because he is a proven judicial conservative. His four years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court provided a track record of unassailable, solid judicial reasoning, votes and written opinions. He knows a judge derives his or her authority from “we the people” and ought to view the Constitution not as a living document but as the cornerstone of the rule of law, and its original text and intention must be properly understood and adhered to. Justice Kelly is not a judicial activist; he respects the role of the legislative branch and refuses to “legislate from the bench.”

Judge Protasiewicz lacks Judge Kelly’s track record on constitutional decisions. Her work has been in the Milwaukee County Courts, most recently in Family Court. That said, she has been very happy to make sure all of Wisconsin knows her “values,” which she hastens to say don’t necessarily indicate how she will vote on a given issue (wink wink). But she has repeatedly said a woman has a right to abortion, our current legislative redistricting maps are “unfair” and “rigged.” She has said when it comes to issues such as abortion and “gay marriage,” she’s “progressive.” None of this leaves anything to the imagination. She’s had several complaints filed against her for violating the Wisconsin Judicial Code of Ethics related to these brazen statements regarding issues that will surely be before the Supreme Court at some point. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has not reined her in.

What’s your take on the election?

This is probably the most important election we’ve had in Wisconsin in 25+ years. I don’t think the stakes have ever been clearer or higher. The contrast between these two candidates is stark. It’s almost a “winner-take-all” situation for us here. No one who cares about faith, family, and freedom can afford to sit this election out. And make no mistake: it will come down to turnout. We have launched our aggressive, strategic campaign plan to 700,000 Wisconsin voters, urging them to take this election seriously and get a fail-proof plan to vote either by absentee ballot by mail, in-person early voting, or at the polls on Election Day, April 4. The country is watching, the battle lines are drawn, and it’s now up to Wisconsin voters.