Over 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Wisconsin Capitol building Tuesday evening to protest a leaked majority opinion draft from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark court case that ensured abortion rights.
If Roe is overturned, performing most abortions will immediately become illegal in Wisconsin due to pre-existing anti-abortion law.
Demonstrators packed the Capitol lawn, waving signs that said, “get the f*** out of my uterus,” “highest court, what are they high on?” and “get your laws off my body.” Chants of “women's rights are human rights!” and “take to the streets and fight as one, this is how Roe is won” echoed throughout the city.
The event also featured speeches from the rally organizers, the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s UW-Madison Chapter (YDSA-UW) and the Madison Socialist Alternative.
“What is happening in our country right now is scary, not scientific and undemocratic,” Katie, a YDSA-UW member, told the crowd. “For many people, the end of Roe is a death sentence.”
Julian, a trans rights activist, spoke about an experience with a positive pregnancy test and emphasized that the Supreme Court’s decisions could affect hormone therapy and other gender-affirming medical care.
“Protecting people’s health shouldn’t be a debate,” Julian told the crowd.
At around 7:45 p.m. the crowd began marching down State Street toward Library Mall. The crowd continued chanting as they marched and momentarily blocked traffic at intersections. The Madison Police Department helped block off most streets but otherwise remained separate from the demonstrators.
Madison District 8 Alder Juliana Bennett gave a speech on the steps of Memorial Library shortly after the crowd arrived. She emphasized the reproductive care disparities between white Americans and people of color.
“What the f*** is this abortion bull****?” Bennett yelled. “People of color are disproportionately affected in all aspects, especially in our healthcare. The fact that Black women are more likely to lose our children because of stress anxiety is bull****. We should have the same access as everyone else but we don’t.”
Attendees, young and old, said they were inspired by the large number of rally attendees. Amanda, 23, a demonstrator on Library Mall, said she felt “empowered” by the crowd’s size and diversity.
“It’s really cool to see so many people come together, men, women and people of any gender to support women's rights,” Amanda said.
Tracy and Mark of Madison, 66 and 79, have been married for 40 years and have attended demonstrations together in the past at the Capitol. The couple said they were inspired by the youthful passion of the abortion-rights activists.
"This is really impressive because it’s such a young crowd,” Mark said.
The protest remained peaceful with the exception of one minor altercation outside St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center where an individual yelled a homophobic slur at a small crowd of demonstrators. One man from the crowd initiated a fight, but both sides were able to de-escalate the situation with no apparent injuries. It is unclear whether the person who yelled the homophobic insult was affiliated with St. Paul’s.
YDSA-UW and the Madison Socialist Alternative plan to hold an additional demonstration in support of abortion access and reproductive rights on Saturday, May 6 at 3 p.m.
“We’ll see you in the streets at an upcoming rally,” Rebecca of YDSA-UW said as the protest came to a close.
Editor’s note: The following is the live blog reported by The Daily Cardinal news team as the protest unfolded.
[8:38 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: A fight erupted after someone standing alongside St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center members -- though The Daily Cardinal was unable to identify whether or not the individual was related with the church -- yelled a homophobic slur at the small crowd of protesters. One member of the crowd leaped at some church members and members of both sides worked to end the small fight, after which the man ran off. No one appeared injured, but members of both sides were rattled.
[8:28 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Madison Socialist Alternative reiterated their plans to host another demonstration on Saturday, May 7 at 3 p.m. to keep their momentum going. “We’ll see you in the streets at an upcoming rally,” Rebecca of YDSA-UW said as the protest came to a close.
[8:27 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: The crowd is beginning to dissipate slowly, as people scatter across State Street and East Campus Mall. Although the main protest is outside Memorial Library, a portion of State Street remains inaccessible as people leave the protest.
[8:22 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Madison District 8 Alder Juliana Bennett spoke on the steps of Memorial Library.
“What the f*** is this abortion bull****?” Bennett yelled. “People of color are disproportionately affected in all aspects, especially in our healthcare. The fact that Black women are more likely to lose our children because of stress anxiety is bull****. The fact that we have a list access to abortions in the first place is f****** ridiculous. We should have the same access as everyone else but we don’t.”
“I’m gonna be honest and say that we shouldn’t be protected by only Roe v. Wade,” Bennett added. “This should be put into law.”
[8:21 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: One protester who led a “My body, my choice” chant turned to a friend after and said, “This is so emotional, I can’t believe this.”
[8:19 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: Some protesters are choosing to stay back, lingering across from the main crowd in front of the Wisconsin Historical Society building. Anna Cash — a former UW student — is one of those people, citing “claustrophobia” as well as “a scary uptick in COVID-19” as reasons. She did mention, however, that she felt “safe.”
[8:16 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: It seems like the plan for now is to continue chanting on Library Mall as led by the protest organizers. One protestor brought a garbage bag full of snacks and told people to pass it around to everyone throughout the crowd. “You guys, take one and pass it!” they said.
[8:11 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: The protest has reached a halt at Library Mall. Onlookers look to the leaders of YDSA-UW and the Madison Socialist Alternative for next steps. For now, their chants continue to float through Madison.
[8:02 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: As the march passed Gorham Street, several civilians on bikes, scooters and on foot moved in front of neighboring streets to ensure that no cars got past the roads Madison Police Department had not blocked. Several streets, namely Gilman Street, were missed by MPD, and only a bicycle stands between parked cars and the massive crowd.
[8:01 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Demonstrators fill State Street as they march, screaming, “My body, my choice!” and “Women's rights are human rights.” Police are keeping their distance from the demonstrators and are mainly directing traffic. Groups of girls accompanied by their mothers joined the crowd, yelling, “No uterus, no opinion!”
[7:51 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Luke Eckenrod, a member of the Madison Socialist Alternative, said another rally is planned for Saturday, May 7, at 3 p.m. “We hope to see people turn out. We’re gonna have a discussion and it’s gonna have a bit of background about what movements in the past have looked like, their successes and failures, and what we need to learn from them, and what’s necessary right now,” Eckenrod said. “We want people to engage with that and use it as a launching-off point towards more action.”
[7:50 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: Police officers are scrambling through the moving crowd as it moves down State Street. Police cruisers prepared to close nearby streets are moving into position, and demonstrators helped officers move to the front of the protest to slow it down. The policing operation has been passed on from Capitol Police to the Madison Police Department. Expect traffic delays near State Street.
[7:42 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: Tracy and Mark of Madison, 66 and 79, have been married for 40 years and have attended demonstrations together in the past at the Capitol. “This is really impressive because it’s such a young crowd,” Mark said. “As Obama said, young people will change this country.”
Tracy, wearing a sign made by local artist Lesley Numbers that read “keep your laws out of my drawers,” spoke out about the ruling. “I had a feeling this was coming, so I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think this [protest] will affect the Supreme Court, but I am certain it will affect legislation.”
Mark was more optimistic. “I’m holding onto a sliver of hope that this will affect the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.
[7:40 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: The final official speaker of the night was Ivan from Marxist Tendency. They said the Supreme Court draft decision should “blow apart” everything we think about how our current government and Democrats will protect us. “No more faith in the Democratic Party!” Ivan screamed. Most people from the crowd cheered them on, but some had faces of uncertainty.
[7:32 P.M. CDT] Gavin Escott: Angie from the Madison Socialist Alternative underlined how Roe’s original 1973 passage took a diverse coalition of advocates and critiqued the Democratic establishment. “Biden has been demobilizing people by telling people to wait until November when they can vote blue,” Angie said.
[7:22 P.M. CDT] Nadia Tijan: A speaker who identified as “T” passionately shared their struggles with miscarriages and two past abortions. As the crowd ruptured in supportive cheers, T told them, ”Everyone is an activist here today, keep going!”
[7:18 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: As some demonstrators move to the front of the crowd, others watch from a distance. Several people have brought dogs, their children or even pizza, and the positive and energetic atmosphere continues even on the fringes of the protest.
[7:15 P.M. CDT] Gavin Escott: Julian, a trans rights activist, spoke about an experience with a positive pregnancy test and highlighted the need to protest against laws that harm people. “Protecting people’s health shouldn’t be a debate,” Julian told the crowd.
[7:12 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Katie from YDSA is now speaking. “What is happening in our country right now is scary, not scientific and undemocratic.” The crowd gets even more riled up when speakers talk about how banning abortions won’t necessarily affect the wealthy and will have the strongest effect on BIPOC and low-income communities.
[7:10 P.M. CDT] Alexander Tan: The Capitol lawn is now packed enough for speakers to prompt the crowd to move in to allow for more demonstrators. Protestors’ signs include sayings such as, “get the f*** out of my uterus,” “highest court, what are they high on?” and “get your laws off my body.”
[7:09 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Police now surround the top of the Capitol as well as the grass border. The Capitol lawn is tightly-knit and full of activists. Demonstrators range from students, teachers, older men and women, and children as young as elementary school.
[7:02 P.M. CDT] Ian Wilder: The crowd has grown to encompass the Capital Square grass, and although there are no uniformed police officers currently visible in and around the square, several police cruisers have begun to gather and park on State Street, Mifflin Street and Carroll Street.
[7:01 P.M. CDT] Lekha Kachoria: Speeches have officially started from the Madison Socialist Alternative and Young Democratic Socialists of America’s University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter. “This majority we have needs to take to the streets,” one YDSA member said. “Meanwhile the Supreme Court is already trying to contain the anger that’s unleashed. We haven’t forgotten Biden’s promises to codify Roe as law of the land.”
[7:00 PM CDT] Tyler Katzenberger: Good evening and welcome to The Daily Cardinal’s live blog of Tuesday night’s abortion-rights protests at the Wisconsin Capitol. Here’s what we know so far:
On Monday evening, an initial draft majority decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was released in a rare breach of United States Supreme Court procedure. The draft would repeal Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft decision. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, performing an abortion would become illegal in Wisconsin due to laws predating the landmark 1973 court case.
Chief Justice John Roberts has since confirmed the authenticity of the draft decision, which was first reported by POLITICO. In a statement Tuesday morning, Roberts sharply critiqued the leak and announced the Marshal of the Court will conduct an investigation into its source.
“Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court,” Roberts said. “This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.”
Democrats were swift to criticize Alito’s draft decision. In a statement on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he believes “a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”
Gov. Tony Evers led a coalition of 17 other governors on Tuesday calling for federal legislation that codifies abortion rights guaranteed in Roe v. Wade. However, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announcing Tuesday he is still against removing the Senate filibuster (which requires 60 votes instead of 50 to approve bills), such legislation appears unlikely to pass.
Wisconsin Republicans praised the potential decision, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) saying “it will empower states to make their own decisions.”
In response to the court’s announcement, abortion-rights activists plan to protest the draft decision Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on the west steps of the Wisconsin Capitol building at an event organized by the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s UW-Madison Chapter (YDSA-UW) and Madison Socialist Alternative.
“Someone has to do something about this,” YDSA-UW Treasurer Cate Thoemke said in an interview with Daily Cardinal reporter Lekha Kachoria. “We have the majority support to favor Roe v. Wade staying in place. I hope people are angry and outspoken because they should be. This is terrifying, it’s dystopian.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.
Alex Tan is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state politics coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @dxvilsavocado.
Gavin Escott is a senior staff writer and photographer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for city, state, campus and breaking news. He is the current host/producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.