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Wisconsinites rally at Capitol in support of abortion rights after leaked draft opinion

Anti-abortion advocates celebrate news, look to address issue at state level

Protester's signs say "Protect Roe" and "Keep Abortion Legal."
Protesters hold up signs as they listen to speakers Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in front of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

With reproductive rights hanging in the balance, protesters gathered at the state Capitol in Madison on Tuesday night after a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade leaked.

Around 1,000 demonstrators rallied for abortion rights in downtown Madison as part of a wave of protests across the country. Several people gave speeches on reproductive rights, universal health care and union organizing as the crowd gathered around the Capitol, then protesters took off for a march down State Street.

Attendees ranged in age, race, gender and ability.

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Among the protesters were Madison’s Raging Grannies, a group of women who advocate for peace and social justice. Deborah Lofgren, a member of the group, said she had an illegal abortion when she was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1971.

“And I found myself in the basement of a Bronx apartment building. And it was terrifying … I’ve been a supporter of reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood ever since,” Lofgren said.

“I have three daughters and two wonderful granddaughters … I’m very frightened about my granddaughters,” she continued. “I don’t think any person should have to go through that again. And though I know things would not exactly be the same as they were 50 years ago, the problem is that for women that don’t have the means, they could find themselves in that same situation and it’s terrible.”

A protester screams while in a sea of other protesters. Her sign is in favor of abortion access.
Protesters chant in front of the Wisconsin state Capitol in response to the Supreme Court’s draft ruling on Roe vs. Wade on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Bridget Thompson, 16, is a student at Madison West High School. She attended the rally with her mother, Andrea Miller.

“I personally think that sex shouldn’t be scary for women,” Bridget said, “especially, you know, and it’s not only affecting women, but it’s also affecting men.”

Miller said she’s proud of Bridget for standing up for reproductive rights and other social issues.

“I never thought in my lifetime that I would see the rights of women and minorities be challenged the way that they have been recently. And it’s scary to me that individuals who don’t have any idea what women and their families are facing in these times of decision are callously and flippantly making the choice for them. And I don’t want that for my daughters,” Miller added.

Another rally is planned at the Capitol on Saturday at 3 p.m.

A protester's sign says
A protester raises a sign during a march in favor of abortion access Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Abortion currently remains legal in Wisconsin and across the country.

If overturned, abortion would immediately become illegal in Wisconsin, due to a pre-Roe restriction still on the books. Written in 1849, Wisconsin’s law — rendered non-enforceable by Roe — makes providing an abortion a felony, with penalties of up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Despite the draft opinion, abortion rights are overwhelmingly popular. A recent poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School found 72 percent of voters oppose overturning Roe v. Wade compared to just 28 percent who favor overturning it.

Wisconsin anti-abortion advocates say issue won’t end with possible US Supreme Court victory

People against abortion rights celebrated the draft opinion on Tuesday, but many said they believe the issue will likely continue at the state level.

Marie Allen, a leader of La Crosse Life League, said she believes Wisconsin has a “large pro-life contingency.” If abortion becomes illegal, Allen said communities need to be prepared to do more outreach to people who are pregnant and raising children.

“We may see more children become available for adoption. We might see a greater need for social services to help moms and dads raise children,” Allen said. “We need to give families a protective safety net so that we don’t have kids and families who are falling through the cracks.”

Protesters hold banners and raise signs as they march. The Capitol can be seen behind them.
Protesters march down State Street in response to the Supreme Court’s draft ruling on Roe vs. Wade on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Mark Gabriel is a coordinator for Pro Life Wisconsin Calumet County. He said letting states decide their own laws on abortion is reasonable, even though he said he feels abortion is equivalent to murder.

Gabriel said he’s hopeful Wisconsin legislators who say they are anti-abortion will uphold the state’s law from 1849 that makes providing the procedure a felony.

“They should uphold it. If they don’t, we’ll get after them. A lot of them say they’re pro life just to get the votes, let’s see the action,” Gabriel said.

Sue Drefs, an anti-abortion advocate in Delavan, said she has prayed for the U.S. Supreme Court to make this decision for a long time. But she said she’s still concerned about what will happen moving forward.

“I can’t see these women taking this sitting down. They’re going to be doing something, going and getting it done illegally different places, I just don’t know. It’s become such a part of our society, so it’s really hard to say how that’s going to happen,” Drefs said.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Alyssa Allemand and Jenny Peek contributed reporting to this story.