One week after launching an ad offering an ambiguous portrayal of his stance on abortion, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declined to say whether his position has changed.
Walker has as recently as 2012 indicated support for a complete ban on abortion and the adoption of a personhood amendment in the state's constitution. The governor has signed some of the most aggressive anti-abortion measures in the nation into law while in office and also approved budget provisions that have cut funding for reproductive health care.
To earn an endorsement from Pro-Life Wisconsin — which he did in 2010 and 2012 — Walker had to answer "yes" to every question on the group's survey, which asked whether he would support legislation banning abortion in all cases and whether he would support a personhood amendment. The "personhood" movement seeks to legally define human life as beginning at fertilization, rather than when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Such a law would effectively halt all abortions and could also make some forms of birth control illegal.
But in 2014, Pro-Life Wisconsin did not endorse the governor, the Capital Times reported last week. Walker declined to fill out the questionnaire, making him ineligible for an endorsement, said Matt Sande, director of the Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund PAC.
So, has his position on supporting a "no exceptions" abortion ban and the adoption of a personhood amendment changed?
"My position is that I’m pro-life, and the bottom line is that, as I pointed out the other day, that that position relates to what the United States Constitution ruled more than 40 years ago," Walker told reporters Monday. "So in terms of issues that are brought up in the future, we're going to focus on the things that the state has the legal right to look at."
It's a similar answer to others he's given recently when asked about his position.
Asked by Channel 3000 last week whether he wanted all abortions made illegal, Walker responded, "That's not even an option in the state. The Supreme Court more than 40 years ago ruled that is not an option."
And in the campaign's first gubernatorial debate, he echoed statements from his ad, simply saying he is "pro-life" and he "can only imagine how difficult it is" for a woman to decide whether to end a pregnancy. He defended the bill he signed requiring women to get an ultrasound and have the fetus' visible organs and features described to them before having an abortion, touting it as a measure to protect women's health and safety, and said it leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.
As for whether he would try to ban abortion altogether, he said during the debate, "That issue's been resolved" in the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
"You don't have to make abortion illegal to make it inaccessible," said Stephanie Wilson, press secretary for Democratic candidate Mary Burke, in an email Tuesday. "Governor Walker's policies have restricted women's access to safe and legal abortion, against the wishes of the medical community. When safe and legal abortion becomes unavailable, it becomes unsafe. Wisconsin women should be the ones to make their own health care decisions, not politicians like Scott Walker."
Walker has led the way on a "no exceptions" stance for Wisconsin in the past. As a state lawmaker, in 1998, he co-authored a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s health was in jeopardy. Physicians who performed the procedure would have faced life in prison.
In 2010, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he is completely opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.
His answers in his current campaign have drawn fire from the left and some on the right. In the debate, Burke accused him of trying to "have it both ways" by appearing moderate on an issue he's held an absolutist stance on throughout his career.
MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry took him to task in a lengthy open letter she read on her show Saturday.
"You want to make abortion safer, governor? Make it easier to access," Harris-Perry said. "That way, women can terminate a pregnancy early on, under the care of a doctor, rather than waiting until late in the pregnancy, when the risk of complications is higher."
"You’re pro-life — so surely you want to prevent abortion," she continued. "The way to do that is simple: just help women prevent unplanned pregnancies. Make sure they have access to affordable birth control and to affordable, nearby, qualified doctors."
The pro-choice political action committee EMILY's List is bolstering its efforts to reach Wisconsin voters, launching web ads and sending mailers in addition to a $1.2 million TV ad campaign going after Walker's record on abortion.
For the pro-life site Live Action News, conservative writer Calvin Freiburger hammered Walker from the right, calling his ad the "wimpiest 'pro-life' ad of the year."
Freiburger wrote that the ad tried to respond to attacks from pro-choice groups with "mealy-mouthed equivocation."
"Accept 'end a pregnancy' as a euphemism for killing a child? Check. Emphasize that he’s leaving abortion between 'a woman and her doctor'? Check. Gratuitously affirm that favoring legal abortion can be 'reasonable'? Check. Bend over backward to insist it’s all about the women rather than their babies? Check," Freiburger wrote.
Walker's approach, Freiburger wrote, is "simply the natural progression of a governor who’s decided the culture wars are just too politically messy."