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Michels has long opposed the idea of adding exceptions for rape and incest into Wisconsin’s ban on abortion, even saying on a 2004 WPR radio show that although a 12-year-old becoming pregnant because of rape would be the worst kind of crime, he would encourage her to deliver the baby so it could be adopted. (His team has pointed out that the comment is nearly 20 years old.)
He opposed such exceptions in his current gubernatorial campaign as well. In several instances up through September 2022, he reiterated that he does not support them.
In late September, he said he would sign a bill creating such exceptions if he saw one come across his desk as governor. But his campaign maintained that his personal beliefs on the subject hadn’t changed.
The 2022 midterm elections are just weeks away, and abortion remains a centerpiece of candidates’ arguments.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ campaign released a dramatic TV ad on the subject aimed at Republican challenger Tim Michels.
The 30-second spot, called "Twelve," features several young girls of that age — who, as the ad points out, can’t legally drive a car or vote.
"But if this little girl were tragically raped or a victim of incest and became pregnant, radical Tim Michels would force her to deliver the baby," it says.
It’s obviously an extreme example — but it points to Michels’ long-held opposition to creating rape and incest exceptions for Wisconsin’s abortion ban.
So, is Evers right?
Let’s dive in.
Over much of the course of his campaign for governor, as well as a run for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin in 2004, Michels has opposed making exceptions to the state’s abortion ban for people who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
Some states’ bans allow abortion in those cases. Wisconsin’s, which was passed in 1849, does not. (That ban ostensibly took effect in late June, when Roe vs. Wade was overturned, though Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul have filed a lawsuit challenging it.)
Here’s a look at times Michels said he opposed such exceptions:
Perhaps the most pertinent to this claim: Michels said in 2004 on the Wisconsin Public Radio show Route 51 that the example of a 12-year-old who had gotten pregnant because she was raped would be the worst crime, but that "what I would try and tell them is: There’s a life in there, a life that was created by God. And if you carry that baby full term, there’ll be 25 or 35 couples that will be there ready and willing to adopt that baby." (Michels’ team has noted that the quote is nearly 20 years old.)
Also during his 2004 Senate run, when asked whether a woman who was raped and became pregnant should be forced to have the baby, Michels said: "To ask (a woman) to go through the birth is not unreasonable when you talk about killing the life of that baby."
In a June 2022 interview with WISN-TV, Michels said Wisconsin’s abortion ban is an "exact mirror" of his position, and even emphasized that he did not support rape or incest exceptions.
On Sept. 6, at a GOP event in Dane County, Michels said he’d been fielding calls from people who were suggesting he should support rape or incest exceptions, and declared he would not soften his stance.
He changed his tune in an appearance on WISN radio with conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell on Sept. 23, saying he would sign legislation, if it was brought to his desk as governor, that would create rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s abortion ban.
"I am pro-life and I make no apologies for that," Michels told O’Donnell. "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."
We rated it as a "Full Flop" on PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter.
That would put a bit of a dent in Evers’ claim that Michels would force a 12-year-old to give birth in such situations.
But although there has been some interest in the Republican-controlled Legislature in passing a bill with rape and incest exceptions, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said legislation addressing that is unlikely. So while Michels responded to the theoretical possibility, the more likely scenario is that the status quo remains — and he has not indicated he personally would work to advance such exceptions.
In fact, after Michels said he’d sign a bill allowing them, his campaign staff repeatedly said his personal beliefs on the subject hadn’t changed — that is, that he still doesn’t personally support them.
The television ad from Evers’ campaign said Michels would force a 12-year-old girl to give birth if she became pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
Michels long opposed adding exceptions for rape and incest into Wisconsin’s abortion ban, though he recently said he’d sign a bill adding them. But that scenario appears unlikely, and his campaign has said his personal beliefs on the issue remain the same.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
YouTube campaign ad, "Twelve," accessed Oct. 19, 2022
Politico, "In states that allow abortion for rape and incest, finding a doctor may prove impossible," June 27, 2022
Wisconsin state statute on abortion, accessed Oct. 19, 2022
USA TODAY, "Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating constitutional right to abortion," June 24, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers, Josh Kaul file lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's 1849 law banning abortions, calling it unenforceable," June 28, 2022
Wisconsin Public Radio, "The repeal of abortion rights in Wisconsin reshaped 2022 political campaigns. Will it change outcomes?" Oct. 13, 2022
iHeart, Dan O’Donnell — Tim Michels and abortion, Sept. 23, 2022
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Tim Michels flips position on allowing rape, incest exceptions to state abortion ban," Sept. 27, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly Speaker Robin Vos backs exception for rape and incest if Wisconsin's abortion ban goes into effect," May 12, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tim Michels now says he would back legislation allowing abortions in case of rape and incest despite decades of opposition," Sept. 23, 2022
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