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Hundreds take part in Madison march for abortion rights

Advocates gathering nationwide in light of recent legislation to limit abortion in US

Fall colors and State Street businesses are met with a crowd of protesters. One holds a sign that says "think outside my box."
A group of protesters make their way down State Street on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in downtown Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Hundreds have gathered outside the Library Mall in Madison on Saturday, taking part in the nationwide event Bans Off Our Bodies to protest against limits on abortion.

The event kicked off at 1 p.m. with some music from Forward! Marching Band as protesters congregated.

The crowd marched from the Library Mall to the state Capitol. Attendees chanted: “Abortion rights are under attack, what do we do, stand up fight back” and “my body, my choice.”

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The Madison Bans Off Our Bodies march was cosponsored by Indivisible Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison BIPOC Coalition; however, on Friday, the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition announced its rescindment from the event.

“We are officially rescinding our cosponsorship and endorsement of this event because the primary organizers have repeatedly failed to recognize their privilege, be inclusive of all folks with uteri, and understand that BIPOC, queer, disabled, and/or low-income folks do not owe cis-gender, middle-class white women their support, nor labor in a movement that white women co-opted,” the organization said in a statement.

A smaller group from Madison Area Democratic Socialists of America also marched in protest of abortion limits. Their chants included, “Abortion is a human right, not just for the cis and white.”

Tensions arose between members of the two groups over the concerns raised by the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition. Madison Area Democratic Socialists of America gradually took over the event, frustrating some organizers with Bans Off Our Bodies. But many attendees didn’t notice the difference between the two groups and supported calls to action for abortion rights and the need for diversity in the movement.

A leader speaks into a megaphone on the state capitol steps.
Hayley Archer, co-chair of the DSA feminist working group, speaks to the protesters Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in downtown Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A speaker with Madison DSA continued to rally attendees, saying, “We are not here to fight each other. We are here to fight for each other.”

Hayley Archer is the co-chair of the DSA feminist working group. Archer said the reproductive rights movement needs to be more broad and include more voices.

“Any movement is made of people, and people are made of a myriad of ideas about what happens. People are very afraid today. But we are here because the organizers of the march today, we didn’t really feel that they were giving attention or space to Black and brown people … to trans people,” Archer said. “We didn’t want to miss this, we’re not going to opt out. So we came in and jumped to the front of the march with banners.”

A group of pro-life advocates were present at the Capitol. Attendees included people from Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, according to WISC-TV/Channel3000. The group sang the National Anthem and held signs with graphic images.

A pro-life protester holds a red sign in front of the state capitol.
Pro-life protesters gather and chant in opposition to the pro-choice march Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in downtown Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Last month, the Texas Legislature passed a controversial new law barring abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The federal supreme court voted against blocking the Texas law, which some say indicates how the court would rule if it revisited Roe v. Wade.

The U.S. Supreme Court also set arguments for Dec. 1 in a Mississippi lawsuit that challenges Roe v. Wade. In Wisconsin, Roe v. Wade is the only thing in place preventing the state from reverting to a law from 1849 that criminalizes abortion statewide.

Archer said Madison DSA is working on a campaign to strike the 19th century law.

“We have, in this house, a statute on the books from 1849 that makes abortion a felony. And if Roe should fall, it is a felony on day one,” said a speaker with Madison Area Democratic Socialists of America. “And we say no way.”

Editor’s note: Laurel White and Angela Major contributed reporting to this story.