Thousands gathered around the Capitol Square on Friday to protest the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protected the constitutional right to an abortion.
The decision means that, under a Wisconsin law from 1849, abortion is now virtually illegal across the state.
The abortion rights protest was one of two protests happening at the Capitol Square on Friday, with a large crowd gathering before for the second #StopAsianHate protest spurred by assaults on Asian Madison community members last week. As the protests transitioned, organizers emphasized similarities in their struggles and encouraged cooperation to fight against all forms of hate.
The crowd occupied a large section of the State Street entrance to the Capitol Square. Some organizers remarked it was “the largest crowd” they’ve seen in “a long time.”
Despite remarkably hot weather with temperatures in the mid-90s and a blazing sun, the number of protesters remained strong throughout the three-hour event. Volunteers passed out water, snacks and even pizza. Although emotions were high, the protest remained peaceful throughout its entirety.
“Today’s decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is an act of gender violence,” Dr. Crystal Ellis, Freedom, Inc.’s community power building manager, said.
Freedom, Inc. is a local social justice organization that seeks to “achieve social justice through coupling direct services with leadership development and community organizing" in low-income Dane County communities.
“We continue to see the state criminalize people seeking reproductive care,” Dr. Ellis added. “We will not be silent as they try to strip away our rights.”
'Terrified for the future'
Although the main focus of the protest was abortion rights, speakers continuously emphasized how the Dobbs decision is connected to other causes they believe in, including defunding the police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, LGBTQ+ rights, fighting white supremacy and the right to contraception, amongst others.
“F*** the police!” community organizer Ananda Deacon exclaimed.
Deacon is part of Freedom Action Now, a “radical queer, Black and Southeast Asian feminist” political organization that aims to cultivate voter engagement and grassroots advocacy leadership.
"I see that there are police officers everywhere here … but they are not your friends,” Deacon added. "The police will be the ones enforcing this ban, so remember that.”
Supreme Court rulings are traditionally private until they are decided. However, in early May, a leaked concurring opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito indicated the court’s plan to overturn Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey with the Dobbs ruling. Many still held onto hope, however, that the court would change their ruling. This did not happen with Friday’s decision.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the official Dobbs v. Jackson ruling mentioned that the court “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell,” decisions that protect the rights to access contraception, same-sex relationship and same-sex marriage, respectively.
“With the judges on the Supreme Court right now, it felt more like an inevitability finally coming to pass,” said Chloe Foor, a protestor and rising junior studying computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I am terrified for the future, as Justice Thomas heavily implied that they would attack cases defending birth control and same-sex marriage next.”
“However, I am hopeful and believe in the power of the people to let them know we won’t stand for this,” Foor added.
After the initial speakers finished, the crowd began marching around the Capitol Square. As they marched, some held hands, some embraced and some cried.
At the King Street entrance to the Capitol, a small group of about 20 anti-abortion activists had prepared champagne and celebratory signs.
“The civil rights movement has entered the womb,” Pro-Life Wisconsin state director Dan Miller said. “We’ve waited 49 years for this … and we’re going to fight to the bitter end to make abortion completely illegal here in Wisconsin.”
Miller added that the next step he’d like to see is to extend the idea of constitutional personhood — the legal term for the status of being a human being — extended to all unborn children regardless of the stage of pregnancy.
As the march returned to the State Street Capitol entrance, the protest entertained a few more speakers and even a song. Before concluding, though, members of the Madison Socialist Alternative assured protesters that this was the first of many more demonstrations the group hopes to organize.
“Register to vote, run for office if you can, put your voice into those buildings,” immigrant rights activist Larissa Joanna told the crowd. “You have power in your voice.”
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.