Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde speaks Aug. 14, 2012, in Peawaukee, Wis. (AP) Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde speaks Aug. 14, 2012, in Peawaukee, Wis. (AP)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde speaks Aug. 14, 2012, in Peawaukee, Wis. (AP)

By Hope Karnopp February 22, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • A new ad targets Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde on abortion and implies he opposes exceptions for rape and incest. 

  • While running for U.S. Senate in 2012, Hovde said he was “totally opposed to abortion” and supported overturning Roe v. Wade.

  • But Hovde, in 2024, now says he supports putting the issues to voters and supports exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde has made his current stance on abortion public: He supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and also thinks voters should decide the issue.

Hovde made his position clear when asked by PolitiFact Wisconsin to respond to a radio ad that targeted his stances on abortion, based on comments he made while running for the same office in 2012. 

Here’s the main claims on Hovde’s abortion stance in the ad, which was launched by A Better Wisconsin Together, a progressive research and communications group:

"Hovde said, ‘I am totally opposed to abortion’ and ‘I’m 100% pro-life.’ And he supported overturning Roe v. Wade," says the ad, which began airing Feb. 21, a day after Hovde officially entered the race.

The ad also implies that Hovde opposes exceptions for rape and incest, because he’s been backed by Wisconsin Right to Life, a group that tracks its endorsed candidates’ stances on rape and incest. 

"With views like that, Hovde could be a crucial vote in favor of a national abortion ban," the ad says.

We ultimately do not rate the claims in the ad. Hovde’s position has changed since he first ran for U.S. Senate in 2012 and made those claims, and he is just now publicly stating his new position.

But let’s dig into the claims for the purposes of this PolitiFact as the race gets started.

Claims in ad based on statements Hovde made while campaigning in 2012

When asked for backup, A Better Wisconsin Together Communications Director Lucy Ripp sent a memo that details the sources behind each claim in the ad.

Let’s tackle the claims one by one. 

First, the ad claims Hovde said he is "totally opposed to abortion." That comment comes from Hovde’s appearance on "The Jerry Bader Show" in 2012, when he was running in the Republican primary for Senate.

Hovde was asked to address concerns from voters that his charity donated to embryonic stem cell research. 

"I am a strong believer in pro-life. I am totally opposed to abortion," Hovde told the conservative radio show. 

He defended donating to research into multiple sclerosis, which he was diagnosed with in 1991, but disputed his money went to embryonic stem cell research.

So, the ad is correct in the first aspect: Hovde — albeit in 2012 — said he was "totally opposed to abortion."

A Better Wisconsin Together says the second claim, that Hovde said he is "100% pro-life," came from the same radio interview. 

Hovde didn’t say "100%" exactly, rather that he is a "strong believer." Although that caveat is important, the sentiment is similar enough.

Now, for the third claim: Did Hovde say he supports overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that guaranteed abortion rights? 

That claim is based on a WisconsinEye interview with Hovde. That was also in 2012, a full decade before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Hovde did not elaborate on his stance when asked whether he thought Roe v. Wade should be overturned, beyond saying "yes" and repeating his answer when asked a second time.

So, all of those things, apart from one of the wordings, are things that Hovde did say. But a lot has changed since 2012.

Some Wisconsin Republicans have softened their stance on abortion after Democrats mobilized voters on the issue in 2022. 

Let’s check in with Hovde’s campaign to set the record straight on his stance.

Hovde’s campaign says he supports exceptions for rape, incest, the mother’s life

Ben Voelkel, a Hovde campaign spokesman, sent a statement from Hovde that shows his position has changed since 2012. 

Hovde said, "I believe we need exceptions for cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother."

The ad does not explicitly state that Hovde himself opposes exceptions for rape and incest, but suggests he would because Wisconsin Right to Life has supported him in the past.

Wisconsin Right to Life did endorse Eric Hovde in 2012, as well as Tommy Thompson, who eventually won the Republican primary. 

"Eric Hovde has indicated strong support for federal right-to-life issues should he be elected," the anti-abortion group said.

The group said in 2023 that it opposes exceptions for rape and incest, but does support emergency medical exceptions.

Hovde also supports posing the issue to Wisconsin voters via referendum

Here’s the other part of Hovde’s stance. He says, "It is clear after the Dobbs decision that the people of Wisconsin are the ones who should decide this issue."

Assembly Republicans voted last month to pass a bill asking voters whether Wisconsin should ban abortions after 14 weeks of pregnancy. 

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also pushed a referendum that would ask Wisconsin voters: "At what point does society have the responsibility to protect the life of an unborn child?" 

However, neither path looks viable at this point. 

The first proposal deploys a seldom-used process by which a law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor can be enacted only with voters' approval, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers opposes the effort. 

Johnson's suggestion could be used, under current state law, only as a nonbinding vote — one that would measure public opinion but not change the law.

However, both processes don’t look possible at this point. Vos’ move would require Evers’ approval, which he wouldn’t give, and voters could not change the law the way Johnson suggested.

Bottom line: Hovde was "totally opposed" to abortion in 2012, but not in 2024

A Better Wisconsin Together ad that targets Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde’s stances on abortion says: 

"Hovde said, ‘I am totally opposed to abortion’ and ‘I’m 100% pro-life.’ And he supported overturning Roe v. Wade," the ad reads. 

Those three things, except for one slightly off wording, are true. But Hovde said those things more than a decade ago. 

Now, he says he supports exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life. He also favors posing the issue to voters through a referendum. 

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

A Better Wisconsin Together, New Radio Ad Exposes Eric Hovde’s Dangerous Opposition to Abortion Rights, Feb. 21, 2024

Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee (PAC) Endorsed Candidates, 2023

Email exchange, Lucy Ripp, communications director for A Better Wisconsin Together’s, Feb. 21, 2024

YouTube, Eric Hovde on the Jerry Bader Show 4/12/12, Aug. 9, 2023 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Who is Eric Hovde? What to know about Republican candidate challenging Tammy Baldwin, Feb. 21, 2024

WisconsinEye, Campaign 2012: U.S. Senate Candidate Eric Hovde, March 19, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Van Orden half-flips opinion on abortion ban, June 1, 2023

Email exchange, Ben Voelkel, campaign spokesman for Eric Hovde, Feb. 21, 2024

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Assembly passes referendum on 14-week abortion ban that faces certain Evers veto, Jan. 5, 2024 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ron Johnson releases sample abortion referendum, pushes back on Evers' special session call to make it possible, Oct. 4, 2022

Wisconsin Right to Life, WRTL PAC Endorses Fitzgerald, Hovde, Neumann and Thompson for US Senate, June 21, 2012

Wisconsin Examiner, How anti-abortion groups are working to shape Wisconsin law, March 12, 2023


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Hope Karnopp

What is Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde’s stance on abortion?