‘It was complicated’: Professors explain the history and enforcement of abortion in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Public Radio
Experts also discuss how people viewed abortion when Wisconsin’s 19th century ban was passed
Historical analyses of abortion vary widely.
The abortion history debate was elevated this summer when the United States Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization asserted “the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.” Dobbs overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that had guaranteed abortion rights since 1973.
While legal experts on both sides of the debate have agreed that abortion historically has not been considered a constitutional right, Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion riled up many scholars for a number of reasons — chief among them his claim of an “unbroken tradition” of criminalizing abortion.
History is also top-of-mind in the post-Roe world because of so-called “zombie” abortion laws. These are laws that were in place before Roe, then stayed on the books and weren’t enforced after Roe rendered them unconstitutional in 1973.
Many states have zombie abortion laws. But most abortion bans were written in recent years in anticipation of Roe being overturned. Wisconsin is one of three states — along with Oklahoma and Texas — that is enforcing a pre-Roe ban.
One person asked, “What in our society has changed since 1849? Why did people in Wisconsin (during) those times feel that human life at all stages should be protected by law?”
Another asked, “Is there any record on how that law was enforced prior to Roe v. Wade?”
WPR’s “Central Time” host Rob Ferrett spoke with Mary Ziegler, a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Law, and Kimberley Reilly, an associate professor of democracy and justice studies, history, and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay