MADISON, Wis. — Democratic attorney general candidate Josh Kaul said Wednesday the Wisconsin Legislature should make clear in state law that women can legally seek abortions in the event the U.S. Supreme Court leaves that question to states.
Kaul, who is challenging Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that if elected he would work with the Legislature to overturn the state abortion ban law that was passed prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortions legal.
"I think the Legislature should act to overturn that law as quickly as it can," Kaul said.
That position puts him at odds with Schimel, who in 2012 endorsed a Wisconsin Right to Life legal white paper that argued for keeping the law on the books. Schimel was Waukesha County district attorney at the time, two years before he was elected attorney general.
His campaign spokesman, Matt Dobler, said it's the job of the attorney general to defend laws, not write them.
"This is just another example of Josh Kaul's inexperience in Wisconsin and his lack of understanding of the job of attorney general," Dobler said. "Maybe he should be running for the Legislature?"
The status of state abortion bans have gotten more attention since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced earlier this month that he was retiring. President Donald Trump on Monday nominated conservative federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace him, a pick that buoyed the hopes of abortion opponents and raised concerns among those who want to keep the procedure legal.
Kaul, a former federal prosecutor, opposes Kavanaugh's confirmation, saying it would move the Supreme Court "decidedly to the right."
"His nomination underscores the importance of electing people who will stand up for our rights, our protections and our values," Kaul said.
Democrats, especially those running for office like Kaul, have been quick to seize on the issue to draw a contrast with Republicans who oppose abortions. Kelda Roys, one of eight Democratic candidates for governor, said she would pardon anyone who is charged under the old state law.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a longtime abortion opponent who has signed numerous laws limiting abortion access, supports the confirmation of Kavanaugh but has not commented specifically on whether Wisconsin's pre-existing abortion ban should be enforced. His spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday.
Walker in May, when asked if he would support an Iowa-style law that bans abortions at six weeks in most cases, said Wisconsin's current laws that ban abortions after 20 weeks were "very strong as it is right now."
Under Wisconsin's old abortion ban, which is currently unenforceable, any person other than the mother who "intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child" is guilty of a felony punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. There is no exception for cases of rape, incest or for the mother's physical or mental health. It does allow for exceptions to save the mother's life.
Also on Wednesday, Kaul challenged Schimel to a debate in each of the state's eight congressional districts, saying voters need a chance to see how they contrast on issues like abortion.
His challenge came after Schimel reported raising $671,000 between April and June, more than the $570,000 Schimel collected. Schimel has more than $1 million cash on hand, while Kaul has about $680,000.