Tim Michels, the Republican nominee for governor in Wisconsin, said Friday he would support an abortion ban that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, a shift from his earlier stance on the issue.
In an interview on the Dan O’Donnell show, a conservative talk radio program in Wisconsin, Michels was asked if he would sign an abortion ban bill that included exceptions.
“Yeah, yes, I would sign that bill,” Michels said.
Michels’ new position is a move toward the center after his staunch backing of an 1849 state law, banning abortion in almost all cases, that was temporarily revived after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. At a recent campaign event, Michels told supporters, “I’m not going to soften my stance on abortion.”
NBC News reported Wednesday on Michels’ apparent campaign strategy to avoid moderating on flashpoint issues like abortion in the lead-up to Election Day, despite national headwinds showing abortion has become a major motivating factor for Democratic and independent voters heading into the November elections.
Asked on Friday if his new stance on abortion was a shift, Michels sidestepped the question.
“I understand that the governor, you know, you’re not the ultimate authority on things that you work with the Legislature and the Legislature, the State Senate, the Assembly, they’re closest to the people. So if yes, that bill was put before me, I would sign it,” he said on the Dan O’Donnell show.
Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers, immediately pounced on Michels’ remarks Friday.
“Wisconsin voters are smart enough to see through Tim Michels’ dishonest attempt to hide his radical views on abortion, including his clear support for a ban that contains no exception for rape or incest,” Evers campaign spokesperson Kayla Anderson said in a statement.
“Michels has staked out the most extreme position possible on this issue, and as governor, wouldn’t hesitate to enact radical legislation that would put women’s lives at risk. He’ll say or do anything to win an election, and he can’t be trusted to protect reproductive freedom,” Anderson added.
In a statement, Michels campaign spokesperson Anna Kelly denied that the candidate’s position had changed, and instead slammed Evers, arguing he “hasn’t been vocal on whether he supports any abortion restrictions at all or supports abortion on-demand up until the moment of birth.”
Wisconsin’s 173-year-old law makes performing an abortion a felony; doctors who perform the procedure face up to six years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. It makes an exception only to save the life of the woman — but not for her health or for a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
In nearby Michigan, voters this fall will decide whether to enshrine abortion rights in a constitutional amendment after the state’s Supreme Court directed election officials to put the measure on the ballot. Earlier this year, voters in Kansas voted to uphold abortion rights in their state.
Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.