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

UPDATE: On September 23, Michels said during an interview that he would be open to allowing for exceptions for rape or incest if the Legislature were to send him a bill, but maintained he was not softening his stance on abortion.


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MADISON, Wis. — There have been a handful of attack ads criticizing Tim Michels for his views on abortion, including one running in the Madison area, which contain some truth but need clarification.

The ad News 3 Now focused on for this Reality Check is from the Better Wisconsin Political Fund and has aired on television in Madison.

Among the claims in the ad is that Michels does not believe in any exemptions to the state’s abortion ban except for when the life of the mother is at risk — and that is true. Michels says his views on abortion mirror the 1849 state law that went into effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That law only includes the one exception to save the life of the mother, and would also jail doctors who perform abortions.

This is a different view than some legislative Republicans — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, for example, indicated he would support changing Wisconsin law to allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

There have also been some claims that Michels would support banning contraceptives in Wisconsin. The claim stems from leaked audio of a Michels event in which he was asked what he would do with “abortion pills being passed off as contraception,” to which he answered that they would be illegal in Wisconsin under his administration.

His campaign later walked that back and confirmed to News 3 Now that Michels is not in favor of banning contraceptives.

Does his foundation fund groups working to outlaw birth control?

That claim is mostly incorrect as it is laid out. Michels’ and his wife’s foundation did make donations to numerous pro-life groups, according to a report from 2020. The donations were directed to specific funds within the organizations; however, according to the websites of those organizations, the funds are used for outreach efforts instead of lobbying for changes to Wisconsin law.

Those funds, for example, would be used to create pro-life groups on college campuses or to train “sidewalk counselors” who would confront those entering abortion clinics to dissuade them from seeking abortions.

Some of the parent organizations of the specific funds to which the foundation has donated, like Pro-Life Wisconsin, overtly oppose contraception and equate certain kinds to abortion. Pro-Life Wisconsin says it has lobbied for reduced funding for contraceptives, protections for health care workers who may object to the use of contraceptives and removing contraceptive education from public school sex education curricula.

Does a Michels family foundation fund a group that uses cell phone data to track women if they go to abortion clinics?

This is largely true. Tim Michels is a trustee for a foundation in his parents’ name, and in 2015 that group donated to the Veritas Society. According to its website, the Veritas Society provides an ad-targeting service that can put pro-life groups’ messages in digital ads targeting women who are considering abortions. Part of the data it collects includes cell phone location data for those who visit abortion clinics, similar locations or even their parking lots.

Where are Wisconsinites on the issue of abortion?

Abortion has been a key issue for Democrats this election cycle as they try and stave off what is traditionally expected to be a good year for Republicans. The ad was paid for by a Democratic-aligned group, likely to keep the issue front-and-center in Wisconsinites’ minds.

In terms of policy, 65% of Wisconsinites want abortion to be legal in all or most cases, according to a Marquette Law School Poll from August. A smaller group of Wisconsinites, 30%, support abortion being illegal in all or most cases.

A majority of Republicans in that poll — 65% — believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

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If you have a political ad you would like us to fact-check as part of our Reality Check series, send an e-mail to tips@channel3000.com or wkenneally@wisctv.com.