Michels says he would sign abortion ban with rape, incest exceptions

MADISON, Wis. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels indicated he would be open to allowing for exceptions to the state’s abortion ban in the cases of rape or incest if the Legislature sends him a bill.

Michels said during an interview on the conservative talk radio show the Dan O’Donnell Show, however, that was not a softening of his view on abortion — which he had previously promised not to do.

“I am pro-life and make no apologies for that,” Michels said during the program. “But I also understand that this is a representative democracy, and if the people — in this case, the Legislature — brought a bill before me, as you just stated, I would sign that.”

Michels has said repeatedly that he supports the current exemptions in state law, which only allow for abortions if the life of the mother is at risk.

MORE: Reality Check: How do Tim Michels’ views on abortion compare to Wisconsin?

UW-Milwaukee professor emeritus Mordecai Lee said the change in Michels’ stance may be due to some polling the campaign has seen.

“When a politician changes positions, that means that something is happening,” Lee said. “I think what this is telling us is that the attack commercials against Michels for his abortion position, whether it comes from the campaign of Governor Evers or whether it comes from independent spending groups, were making a difference.”

He added that the shift could appeal to more moderate voters, who would normally be economically conservative but socially liberal, and who might be turned off by a hard line on abortion.

In a statement after the radio interview, a spokesperson for the Michels campaign was quick to slam incumbent Gov. Tony Evers on his abortion stance.

“Tony Evers hasn’t been vocal on whether he supports any abortion restrictions at all or supports abortion on-demand,” spokesperson Anna Kelly said. “Tony Evers is so extreme on this issue that he has twice vetoed born alive bills.”

In their own statement, however, the Evers campaign said the change in Michels’ stance was an effort to “hide his radical views.”

“Make no mistake: Michels has staked out the most extreme position possible on this issue, and as governor, wouldn’t hesitate to enact radical legislation that would put women’s lives at risk,” said Evers campaign spokesperson Kayla Anderson.

Lee said the Evers campaign might consider cutting ads targeting Michels for his perceived flip-flop, and those could even hit the airwaves as early as next week.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the state reverted to an 1849 law that bans abortions except to protect the life of the mother. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit seeking to make the 1849 law unenforceable, but the suit is still pending.