Wisconsin Supreme Court: Planned Parenthood-backed Protasiewicz wins 

shutterstock 1218285568 A roll of I Voted stickers. | PhilipR / Shutterstock

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who garnered numerous endorsements and campaign funding from pro-abortion organizations during a contentious race for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, emerged as the victor Tuesday night in what proved to be the most expensive state Supreme Court race in history. 

The 2023 Wisconsin judicial race, which might have remained obscure in other years even within Wisconsin, captured national media attention and record fundraising numbers this spring. Pro-life and pro-abortion advocates agree that Protasiewicz’s win could tip the scales against the state’s current abortion ban, which is currently being challenged in court. 

The April 4 statewide election, which saw high turnout numbers, featured former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and Protasiewicz, a judge for Branch 24 of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in Wisconsin, having been elected to that court in 2014. In a Feb. 21 primary, Kelly and Protasiewicz emerged as the two highest vote-getters, advancing them to the nonpartisan general election.

Protasiewicz defeated Kelly 55%-45% as of 11:15 p.m. Eastern time, according to the Associated Press. 

Protasiewicz won endorsements throughout the campaign from numerous top Democrats in Wisconsin as well as from pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List. She also spoke openly about her pro-abortion views while insisting that she has made “no promises” to pro-abortion groups that she will seek to overturn the state’s current abortion ban. 

Pro-life advocates have expressed worry that a liberal-majority state Supreme Court is likely to declare the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban unconstitutional, as happened in a lower court last year in neighboring Michigan and West Virginia.

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban in effect, at least on paper. Wisconsin’s ban, which is contained in Section 940.04 of the Wisconsin Statutes and dates to 1849, allows abortion only to save the life of the mother. The state’s Democratic governor and attorney general have said they will not enforce the ban and are currently suing in an attempt to have it overturned.

The law was previously unenforceable following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but Roe’s overturning last year allowed the statute to come into effect. So far, it has not been blocked in court. 

“The upcoming spring election will determine the balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and will likely determine the fate of not only 940.04 but pro-life laws in Wisconsin for years to come,” Gracie Skogman, legislative and public affairs director for Wisconsin Right to Life, told the National Catholic Register.

Pro-abortion groups within and outside Wisconsin have identified the state Supreme Court race as the key to getting 940.04 overturned. Gov. Tony Evers, along with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, announced a lawsuit last year to attempt to overturn the law, arguing that it has been superseded by subsequent legislation and cannot be enforced.

The lawsuit is likely to be ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court, which has had a 4-3 conservative majority for the past decade and a half. Now that Protasiewicz has won, the state Supreme Court will feature a liberal majority at least until 2025, when a liberal justice will run for reelection.

Kelly, who describes himself as a “constitutional conservative,” had warned during the campaign that a Protasiewicz win would lead to the judge imposing her political agenda on the courts rather than interpreting the law fairly, which he insisted he would do. Protasiewicz criticized Kelly for his alleged involvement in a failed Republican plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which Kelly claims he was “not in the loop” about. 

Amid a contentious campaign, Kelly earned the endorsement of three statewide pro-life groups — Wisconsin Family Action, Pro-Life Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Right to Life. He said during a recent debate that his numerous endorsements from pro-life groups came about after having conversations with them about his pledge to uphold the Constitution, not because of any promise to keep the abortion ban in place. 

At least two of the state’s bishops, including Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, had reiterated to Catholics that the right to life is a foundational issue that should form their consciences as they decide how to vote on Tuesday. 

“Without the right to be born and to live, every other right is worthless,” Hying wrote in a March 30 letter. 

“Do we want to live in a country that welcomes the wonder of every human life, supports marriages and families, helps the needy and suffering, seeks justice for all, and builds a civilization of love, or, do we want a society which aborts its children, leaves struggling parents without support, and lives a radical autonomy with no reference to the dignity of life and the common good? Do we elect civic leaders who stand on the unshakeable moral principle that every human life is sacred and of immeasurable worth, or, do we elect those who disregard the fundamental dignity of life and advocate for taking the life of the most innocent in the womb? Such questions we should ask ourselves as we exercise our moral and civic duty to vote.”

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee also issued a letter, dated March 28, urging Catholics to vote for candidates that uphold the right to life.

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“The killing of the innocent has never been supported by Catholic Church teachings. As citizens, we have an obligation to support the laws that protect the innocent. We must take our responsibility, as citizens before God’s judgment, for the times we have supported the destruction of the innocent. We must also take responsibility for the lack of support for the protection of the innocent when we vote for candidates and laws that liberalize abortion laws,” Listecki wrote. 

“There is nothing enlightened about an individual who fails to realize that the denial of the right to life for the most vulnerable among us is an attack on the dignity and personal value of every citizen. I could not and would not support a candidate whose position on life is contrary to the teachings of the Church — a position contrary to the teachings and love of Jesus.”

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