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WisDems: ICYMI: With 2nd Dobbs anniversary, Democratic candidates say reproductive rights still motivating issue

MADISON, Wis. — On the 2nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Wisconsin Examiner spoke with three Democratic legislative candidates on the importance of reproductive rights and the 2024 election. Thanks to new, fair legislative maps, each candidate is running in a competitive district. Candidates Jodi Habush Sinykin, Sarah Keyeski, and Alison Page agree that reproductive rights are at the forefront of voters’ minds. 

Wisconsin Examiner: ICYMI: With 2nd Dobbs anniversary, Democratic candidates say reproductive rights still motivating issue
By: Baylor Spears

Democratic candidates for Wisconsin’s state Legislature are betting reproductive rights will help motivate voters to head to the polls in November and are using the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision as an opportunity to highlight their support for protecting access to abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilization treatment (IVF) and more.

Reproductive rights have become an essential part of Democratic campaigns since the Dobbs decision, which eliminated federally protected abortion rights, came down on June 24, 2022. The strategy has been effective at times including in the 2023 election that flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court election to a liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.

The issue will likely play a key role in Wisconsin state legislative races as Democrats seek to make gains in the Senate and Assembly. The Wisconsin Examiner spoke with three Democratic state legislative candidates ahead of the Dobbs anniversary about the role that reproductive rights will play in their campaigns.

Jodi Habush Sinykin, Democratic candidate for the 8th Senate district and an environmental advocate, said the fate of reproductive rights, including abortion access, will depend on voters electing candidates like herself during a campaign event ahead of the Dobbs anniversary last week. She pointed out that abortion access, specifically, has been tenuous since the overturn of Roe v. Wade with services halting in the state immediately following the Dobbs decision, then being restored last year following a Dane County judge’s ruling. That decision is now being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“Make no mistake. Things are not secure in Wisconsin until we have legislative solutions and guarantees that women’s health care access will be restored in its entirety as it was under Roe v. Wade,” Habush Sinykin said at the event on Thursday. “We need a return back to that time and certainty for our doctors so we do not lose more doctors and more medical students.” 

Habush Sinykin is challenging Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) in the district that runs north of Milwaukee and includes Whitefish Bay, Mequon, Menomonee Falls, Germantown, Saukville, Richfield, Cedarburg and Grafton. It is her second run for the state Senate. The district is one of four that Democrats are heavily targeting in the Senate as it is more competitive with new legislative maps in place.

Habush Sinykin lost her first bid for the 8th Senate district in a special election against Sen. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) last year in the same cycle which liberal state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz was elected. The district was traditionally Republican under the old maps, but Habush Sinkykin ran a close race, coming within two percentage points of winning. She told the Wisconsin Examiner that she attributes the closeness in that race to “women and families in the district who are really concerned about women’s reproductive health care, particularly the access issues.” 

She also said the issue of reproductive rights is “just as relevant, if not more so, today than it was during the special election.”

Habush Sinykin called attention to the Republican Legislature and Stroebel in particular.

“Republicans tend to try to limit the issue of reproductive health care, just to abortion access, what they are missing or trying to not address is a far greater impact on limits to access for women at every stage of their lives,” Habush Sinykin said. “The extreme bills advanced and supported by Sen. Stroebel, for example, compromises the ability of women to have doctors, OBGYNs in particular, available to provide the care that we need at all ages.” 

Habush Sinykin told the Examiner that Stroebel’s opposition to the expansion of postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a year shows a “lack of compassion and a lack of leadership.” She also criticized his support of a bill introduced by Republicans’ this year that would have allowed voters to decide whether the state implemented a 14-week abortion ban

“We certainly need to understand that the Legislature that is in place after these coming November elections in Wisconsin will be taking up legislation,” Habush Sinykin said. “Will they impose restrictions that Sen. Stroebel has advocated for in the past and recently, or will we proceed with the will of Wisconsinites to reinstate Roe v Wade protections?” 

Sarah Keyeski, candidate for the 14th Senate District and a rural mental health care provider, said in an interview that reproductive rights are an important issue to her and will be a “piece of the pie” in her campaign. She is challenging Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), who was elected to the Senate in 2020, for the seat north of Madison that includes parts of Sauk, Juneau, Dane, Richland and Columbia counties. It’s another district Democrats are seeking to flip this year. 

“The idea of taking away rights from women and now raising my identical twin girls in a world where they have less rights than I’ve had is very disturbing to me,” Keyeski, who is a mother of six, said. “I’m compelled to make sure that they live in a world where they have autonomy over choices over their body, over their family planning, that they have options and safeguards for their health and well being that are available to them if they would need them.”

Keyeski said she wants to see Roe v. Wade codified into law, birth control access made more accessible and a right to IVF treatment protected.Assembly candidate says some underestimate feelings on reproductive rights 

Democratic candidates for the state Senate will not be the only ones to focus heavily on reproductive rights during the 2024 elections as the party is seeking to flip the Assembly. The issue is top of mind for Alison Page, a River Falls resident who is running against state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) in the race for the newly competitive 30th Assembly district seat, which covers parts of western Wisconsin. 

It was one of the first things that Page, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Assembly in 2022, noted in her campaign announcement in May.

In an interview with the Examiner, Page recalled her reaction to the Dobbs decision that threw access to reproductive rights into flux.

“You’re kidding me. I mean, you are kidding me,” Page said. “We’re gonna go back to a world where someone else feels like they should judge [a woman’s decision], and doctors aren’t going to want to help women make these decisions, because they won’t want to take the risks themselves to be involved. That’s not a good world. That’s not a good world for families, and that’s not a good world for women.” 

Page, who has worked over the course of her career as a nurse, hospital administrator and as CEO of Western Wisconsin Health, said the issue will play a decisive role, including in competitive districts like the one she is running in. She said that she has been hearing from voters already about the importance of the issue when she is knocking doors. 

“There are a lot of people who are underestimating how strongly women feel about this issue and access to their reproductive freedom. They are underestimating it,” said Page. “There are some people who would like to focus all the conversation and all the attention on the economy, but if you’re a woman, having access to reproductive health care is an economic issue.” 

Her views on the issue have been shaped in part by her own personal experience. Page said she had to make the “extremely personal decision” in 1982 to have an abortion after her pregnancy started to cause her health problems. With three kids at the time, Page said she felt she needed to prioritize her life as well as the needs of her children.

“Looking back on it, I can’t imagine a world in which it would be anyone but a woman, her family, her doctors and her God, making a decision.” Page said “It was a very, very difficult decision, and these decisions weren’t black and white, they’re all shades of gray and a continuum of risk, and how much risk are you willing to take with your own life, and that might vary for people.”

Ideally, Page said Wisconsin would make a similar move to Michigan, where voters passed a measure to guarantee abortion access in the state Constitution. However, that would be harder to accomplish in Wisconsin, where constitutional amendment proposals have to pass the state Legislature in two consecutive sessions before going to voters. 

“We need to work to enshrine access to reproductive health care in our laws, and it’s not just access to abortion. It’s access to birth control. It’s access to in vitro fertilization,” Page said. “We don’t need the government telling us what to do in our reproductive lives. I trust women to make good decisions for their families and good decisions.”

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