City News

Freedom of choice brings abortion advocates to Capitol

Individuals of all ages gathered in front of the Capitol to protest abortion restrictions and show their support for Roe v. Wade in light of Alabama’s recent abortion ban.

Image By: Dana Brandt

When Mara Jarvis from the National Organization for Women’s Madison chapter heard about Alabama’s new law banning most abortions, she felt the need to act. 

After sending out a message to a handful of her friends and fellow organizers, Jarvis pulled together a Madison rally in about a week, she said. 

Protests of abortion bans and restrictions happening across the country drew hundreds of participants of all ages on May 23. 

Jarvis and other organizers picked the date and time before the nationwide #StopTheBans rallies were announced two days earlier, but she said she was still impressed with the turnout on the steps of the Capitol.

“I wanted to empower people and to show people that they're not alone in this fight,” Jarvis said. “I wanted to show the Capitol or show people there that we're not going anywhere. We're still here; we're still fighting.”

A large number of men also showed their support at the rally, including 67-year-old Al Hutton. He said he attended because he believes politicians should stay out of women’s medical decisions. 

“I have a sister and an ex-wife and a daughter and a granddaughter, and decisions that need to be made about their health care, I want [them] and their doctor to make,” Hutton said. “I don't want Senator Johnson or [Assembly Speaker] Robin Vos or anybody like that making decisions.”

Many of the speakers at the protest emphasized that abortion is also more than just a women’s issue, as some transgender and non-binary individuals can also become pregnant. 

“I wanted to make it very clear that this is not just a women's issue, that it's a trans person's issue, that it's a non-binary person's issue. It's an everyone issue,” Jarvis said. “Abortion is for everyone because if a person doesn't get an abortion, that affects everyone, how their family is.”

Abortion is an issue of health care, according to rally attendee Michelle Lemech, a 47-year-old nurse and genetic counselor. She spoke of her concerns about the maternal mortality rate in the United States, which is the worst in the developed world and disproportionately affects women of color.

The Alabama ban is poised to challenge Roe v. Wade — the 1973 case legalizing abortion across the nation — in the Supreme Court, and Jarvis said risks to pregnant individuals will only increase if the landmark case is overturned. This is because people seeking to end a pregnancy will just do so illegally and unsafely, she said. 

“The thing about abortion is it's not going anywhere. It was there long before Roe v. Wade, and it'll be here for the rest of time,” Jarvis said. “Whether it is safe and legal is the issue, so we need to push our representatives to make sure that it is.”

Several local representatives were in attendance, including Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. Jarvis also read a statement from Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who wasn’t able to be at the rally. 

“I will fight with my colleagues at every level of the government to support, protect and expand reproductive rights, including access to comprehensive and safe and legal abortions,” Rhodes-Conway’s statement said.

Sargent said standing up for reproductive rights is “morally imperative” because the decision belongs to the individual. 

“We know that people must be able to make their own health care decisions, including decisions about whether and when to become a parent,” Sargent said. “We know that each person has their own individual story ... we need to honor that people are going to make the best decision for themselves.”

During Taylor’s speech, she referenced a group of bills passed by the state Assembly last week aiming to limit abortion access. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Tony Evers plans to veto all of these bills. 

Taylor referred to the proposed legislation as “bogus, BS bills that did nothing to enhance women's health” and expressed her frustration with her colleagues on the other side of the aisle. 

“We will never take direction from these guys in the Republican party,” she said. “They are the last people on earth who should tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies.”

Republicans who were called out by name at the rally included Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. 

Vos, while he has not said if he supports other states’ abortion bans at six weeks into a pregnancy, said he does believe “once there’s a detectable heartbeat, it’s a baby” — which is the basis for such bans. 

Fitzgerald had previously told WKOW 27 News he did not support overturning Roe v. Wade, but he later changed his position in a Thursday thread of tweets

“Overturning Roe would be a monumental moment for the pro-life movement that I’m proud to be a part of — I want to see that happen,” Fitzgerald tweeted. “I’m looking forward to standing up for life once again by sending the pro-life bills recently passed by the Assembly to the governor’s desk after the Senate passes them in June.”

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will become illegal in Wisconsin — even in cases of rape, incest and when the health of the parent is in jeopardy — due to an 1849 law that is still on the books.

The reality that this 170-year-old law could soon prohibit Wisconsinites from getting abortions reminds protester David Williams, 69, of a time before Roe v. Wade protected access to the procedure. 

“I was involved in the pro-reproductive rights struggle back in the late '60s and early '70s, before Roe,” Williams said. “So here, this is like 'Back to the Future.'”

For the second half of the rally, protesters participated in a die-in, where they lay on the ground as if dead to represent those who have passed away due to lack of abortion access. During the die-in, attendees had the chance to speak, often sharing their own experiences with abortion, parenthood or sexual assault. 

Partners of the event — including NOW, Women’s March WI, Madison Abortion Defense and #Fight4Her — helped collect donations for Women’s Medical Fund Wisconsin and the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama, which provide financial assistance to people wanting abortions who can’t cover the cost. 

The two-hour rally raised more than $1,500 for the two organizations, according to Women’s Medical Fund Wisconsin

Organizers were pleased with the results of the event, including 22-year-old K.C. Cayo, the western regional director for Women's March WI. However, Cayo still recognized the reality that Wisconsin could pass its own version of an abortion ban.

“I know that eventually Alabama and [other states] are going to have to do some reckoning with Roe vs. Wade and the legality or lack thereof of their decision, but I would hate to see Wisconsin follow suit,” Cayo said. “Although it would be really hard with Tony Evers in charge, it would not be impossible.”

After a governor vetoes a bill, it requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House to overturn the veto and make the bill a law. Evers’ planned vetoes could theoretically be overturned, but the GOP does not have a two-thirds majority in either chamber.

However, the future of abortion laws across the nation is still uncertain for Williams.

“It's going to be a historic fight,” he said. “Just like the American Civil War.”

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