Voters in Wisconsin will have their say on Tuesday in what’s being dubbed the most important election of the year for abortion rights.
On Tuesday, voters will cast ballots for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Though the state Supreme Court is technically nonpartisan, the outcome of this race will determine the ideological balance of its judges, directly affecting the future of abortion rights in the state as the court is expected to weigh in on whether an 1849 law banning abortion should remain on the books.
“When the US Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, there was a lot of talk about the issue of abortion being sent to the state legislatures. In fact, that’s wrong: Ultimately, the question goes to the 50 state supreme courts, each of which has to interpret its state’s constitution,” Howard Schweber, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told BuzzFeed News.
After the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last June, the issue of reproductive rights has taken center stage in state elections. Last summer, voters in Kansas rejected an attempt to strip abortion protections from their state constitution, and during last fall’s midterm elections, voters in several states, including Michigan and Kentucky, defended reproductive rights on the ballot.
In Wisconsin, when Roe was overturned, the 1849 ban, which prohibits all abortion in all cases except to save the pregnant person’s life, once again took effect. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, with the support of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, sued to overturn the ban and pledged not to enforce it while the legal challenge continues to make its way through the courts. Still, many abortion providers in the state stopped performing the procedure because of ambiguity around its legality.
Kaul and Evers won reelection in November after campaigning on their support for abortion rights. The case is now expected to go before the state Supreme Court in the next year or two, and the justices will have the final word on whether the 1849 ban remains the law.
The election has become one of the most closely watched contests in the country, with former president Barack Obama encouraging Wisconsinites to get out and vote. It has also broken spending records as the most expensive state Supreme Court election in US history, with nearly $29 million going to political ads, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.