Dozens of Madison community members and activists gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol to support reproductive rights Sunday ahead of a crucial state Supreme Court election that could determine whether abortion remains illegal in Wisconsin.
The State Capitol has hosted regular abortion rights rallies since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, a decision that reverted Wisconsin back to an 1849 abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest. Democrats — and even some Assembly Republicans — have tried to amend or eliminate the abortion ban, only to meet staunch opposition in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But with a legal challenge against the ban pending in state courts, abortion rights activists and liberal politicians see Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election as a chance to dismantle the state’s abortion ban and break over a decade of conservative political dominance in the state.
The winner of Tuesday’s election between conservative former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz will determine the court’s ideological majority, which currently breaks 4-3 towards conservatives. If Protasiewicz wins, the lawsuit would face a liberal majority more likely to strike the ban.
Filed last year by Attorney General Josh Kaul, the lawsuit argues a 1985 law allowing abortions until a fetus can survive outside the womb supersedes Wisconsin’s 174-year-old abortion ban.
Sarah Godlewski, who was appointed Secretary of State last month after previously serving as Wisconsin Treasurer, told The Daily Cardinal there are more recent abortion laws that pose similar issues.
“Why aren’t those laws coming into play? Why are we literally setting half a population back two centuries, before the Civil War was even fought?” Godlewski asked. “There is a clear line between gaining back our reproductive freedom, and the [state] Supreme Court is a clear linkage to women being able to make their own health decisions.”
Godlewski’s political action committee, Women Win Wisconsin, organized Sunday’s event with a group of other reproductive health advocates that included Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin and Service Employees International Union for healthcare workers, according to a press release.
Godlewski founded Women Win Wisconsin following Roe’s overturn in 2022 to support pro-choice women running for office and restore reproductive freedom.
“It’s infuriating to know that I have fewer rights than my mother or my grandmother,” she said. “That’s why I believe we have no other alternative but to continue to elevate this issue and fight for it.”
Speakers at Sunday’s rally included young people, first-time voters and medical workers who were “sick of being treated like a political football,” Godlewski said.
Shonita Roach, founder of multicultural maternal mental health organization Shades of You, Shades of Me, asked the crowd to consider the hidden mental health consequences of reproductive health issues as they rallied for abortion rights.
“We don't speak about maternal mental health… after abortion, or when a mom brings a child into this world and her mental health is affected,” Roach said.
Seeing new faces take the podium gave Godlewski hope for the upcoming state Supreme Court election, she said.
“I’ve never seen energy this high for a Supreme Court candidate — not just high energy, but new energy,” Godlewski said. “The young generation here in Wisconsin, their voice and their vote has the ability to truly change our trajectory.”
Editor’s note: The Daily Cardinal Photo Editor Lauren Aguila contributed to this story.
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.