Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign a 20-week abortion ban in Wisconsin that social conservatives say is a major victory for unborn babies and could strengthen the Republican’s pro-life credentials on the eve of his entrance into the 2016 presidential race.
Religious and social conservatives have questioned Mr. Walker’s commitment to pro-life efforts following his gubernatorial campaign last fall where he said he supports legislation that leaves the final decision of whether to end a pregnancy “to a woman and her doctor.”
Mr. Walker, though, drew praise Thursday after thanking the Wisconsin legislature for sending him a measure “protecting unborn children after 5 months.”
“Great day for life in [Wisconsin],” Mr. Walker said via Twitter.
His Twitter account also teased his “big announcement” on Monday at the Waukesha County Expo Center, where he is expected to make himself the 15th official candidate in a Republican presidential race that is expected to swell further.
Polls show that Mr. Walker is running second in the Republican presidential race to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush nationwide and sits in first place in Iowa, a neighboring state that is home to a large number of Evangelical and born-again Christians that traditionally play a major role in the caucuses that start the GOP nomination contest.
Some of those same voters raised questions about Mr. Walker’s stance on pro-life issues after he ran a commercial in his 2014 re-election bid in which he introduced himself as pro-life, and said “there is no doubt in my mind that the decision to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one.”
“That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information of a woman considering her options,” he said, looking straight into the camera. “The bill leaves the final decision between the woman and her doctor.”
On Thursday, Frank Cannon, head of American Principles in Action, a conservative think tank, said that Mr. Walker’s support of the 20-week abortion bill will help “put to rest a lot of the questions that people had.”
“I think it makes it clear that he is a social conservative and that people who are wondering how he would govern as president have a very recent reminder that he is willing to be on the offensive,” Mr. Cannon said. “I think it puts him in good stead verses other social conservative in Iowa and bolster his social conservative bonafides.”
Mallory Quigley, spokesperson for the Susan B. Anthony List, also applauded Mr. Walker.
“Thanks to Governor Walker, Wisconsin will soon be the 15th state to pass this common sense legislation to protect babies after five months,” Ms. Quigley said. “Governor Walker has a clear record of defending the unborn and women, as well as pro-life taxpayers in Wisconsin, which is why his pledge to support this bill is just further confirmation of his deeply held pro-life beliefs.”
Ms. Quigley said the legislation is a political winner because polls show that a majority of Americans support it.
“Right now all of the potential Republican presidential candidates have pledged their support for this legislation and we encourage them all to use this issue to go on offense and expose Democrat’s extremism on abortion in the general election,” she said.
Mr. Walker’s office said that he will follow through on his previous promises to sign the bill — though they would not say when.
Bills to ban abortion after the 20th week of development is top issue for social conservatives. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another 2016 GOP presidential candidate, has led the most recent push for a federal ban on Capitol Hill.
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who are also seeking the White House, support the federal push.
Supporters say a fetus feels pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Opponents disagree.
The bill headed to Mr. Walker’s desk opens the door for doctors to be charged with a felony punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and more than three years in prison if they perform an abortion after 20 weeks in non-emergency situations.
The proposal includes exemptions for doctors to perform abortions beyond 20 weeks if the mother is likely to die or suffer irreversible injuries within 24 hours. But it does not have exemptions for aborting pregnancies resulting from sexual assault or incest.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.