WISCONSIN — Christine Smith of Sheboygan, Wis., held onto a black and white photo of her grandparents, mother and aunt from the 1940s. The family photo was captured a year before her Aunt Irene became pregnant out of wedlock. 

(Spectrum News 1/Abbey Taylor)

“My aunt’s choices were to give birth, keep it and put it up for adoption or have an illegal abortion,” said Smith. “She decided to keep her baby, but this had a huge impact on my whole family, my aunt and my mother.” 

Smith said the unwanted pregnancy was a catalyst behind her family’s activism for women’s reproductive rights — trying to ensure they have the choice to use contraceptives and the option for an abortion. 

“Women should be able to have abortions because this is their body and [they should not] only have the right to make decision on their body, but [also be able to] make decisions about their lives long term.” 

Abortions have been illegal in Wisconsin since 1849, but the ban hasn't been enforced since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Smith said she is hopeful the state will change that law; the ban currently in effect prohibits abortion unless it’s to save a mother’s life.

She said it’s unfair to rely on a law that was made 71 years before women had the right to vote. 

An Exclusive Spectrum News/Siena College Poll showed 72% of Wisconsinites think the state should have a new law, but there are a lot of different opinions about how far it should go.

The poll showed 37% of likely Wisconsin voters want a law that makes exceptions for cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Smith said she would like to see abortion rights go further. 

“Having a few clumps of cells having more rights than the person who’s been living for 18 to 20 years,” said Smith. “Most women who have abortions have already had at least one child. [They] have responsibilities; [they] have lives. I just don’t see them as equivalent.”  

Five percent of poll participants said they would want a law that banned abortion in all cases. Matt Sande with Pro-Life Wisconsin said he agrees with that 5%.

He said he Pro-Life Wisconsin believes abortion can "never be justified morally or medically." He said abortion takes the life of "a pre-born, innocent human being." 

Sande said the 1849 law should be stronger. He said Pro-Life Wisconsin wants to replace it with language which would require equal care for the mother and baby. 

“In a medical emergency, we don’t intentionally destroy the life of the unborn child,” said Sande. “We rush mom and baby to hospital and maybe they do a medical emergency C-section, maybe a medical emergency early induction or maybe it’s the issue of an ectopic pregnancy. If the baby inadvertently dies as the physicians are doing their best to save both, those are not abortions.”

Both Sande and Smith said they know how much the upcoming election could change the future of abortion in Wisconsin.

“We want all the constitutional officers republicans to win so we can advance our pro-life agenda,” said Sande.

As for Smith, she said she’ll continue to protest and advocate for women’s reproductive rights, not only in honor of her late aunt, but for other Wisconsin women. 

For a full list of the results, click here