Madison, Wisconsin. – From coastal cities to snow-covered streets, thousands of abortion supporters gathered Sunday to demand protection for reproductive rights and mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturned Roe v. Wade ruling that established federal protection for the procedure.
Row’s repeal in June sparked a flurry of legislation in states separating them between those who restricted or banned abortion and those who sought to protect access. Inspired by President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration amid a national crackdown on sexual harassment, the Women’s March said it refocused on state activism following Roe’s ouster.
“This fight is more important than Rowe,” the Women’s March tweeted. “They thought that we would stay at home and that it would end with Rowe – they were wrong.”
A dozen Republican states have introduced sweeping abortion bans, and several others are seeking to do the same. But these steps were offset by profits on the other side.
Opponents of abortion have been defeated on the ballot in Kansas, Michigan, and Kentucky. State courts blocked several bans from going into effect. Countless efforts are being made to help patients travel to states where abortion is legal or use self-abortion medications. And some Democratic-led states have taken steps to shield patients and healthcare providers from lawsuits from states where the procedure is banned.
Women’s March organizers said their strategy to move forward will mainly focus on state-level action. But the new anti-abortion activists More turning its attention to Congress, with a view to promoting a potential national restriction on abortion in the future.
A major Sunday march took place in Wisconsin, where the upcoming elections could determine the balance of power in the state Supreme Court and future abortion rights. But rallies have been held in dozens of cities, including the Florida state capital of Tallahassee, where Vice President Kamala Harris gave fiery speech to a noisy crowd.
“Can we truly be free if families can’t make intimate decisions about the course of their lives?” Harris said. “And can we truly be free if the so-called leaders claim to be… ‘at the forefront of freedom’ while they dare to restrict the rights of the American people and attack the very foundations of freedom?”
In Madison, thousands of abortion rights activists donned coats and gloves to march in sub-zero temperatures through downtown to the State Capitol.
“At the moment, it’s just basic human rights,” said Alaina Gato, a Wisconsin resident who joined her mother Meg Wheeler on the steps of the Capitol in protest.
They said they plan to vote in April’s Supreme Court elections. Wheeler also said she hopes to volunteer as a poll worker and campaign for Democrats, despite identifying as an independent voter.
“This is my daughter. I want to make sure she has the right to choose if she wants to have a baby,” Wheeler said.
Buses of protesters poured into the Wisconsin capital from Chicago and Milwaukee, armed with banners and posters urging the Legislature to lift the state’s ban.
Eliza Bennett, a Wisconsin ob/gyn who said she had to stop offering abortion services to her patients after Rowe was ousted, called on lawmakers to return women’s choice. “They should be making decisions about what’s best for their health, not state legislatures,” she said.
Abortions are not available in Wisconsin due to the legal uncertainty abortion clinics face as to whether an 1849 law prohibiting the procedure is in effect. A law banning abortions other than to save a patient’s life is being challenged in court.
Some also had weapons. Lilit K., who declined to give her last name, stood on the sidewalk next to the protesters, holding a machine gun and wearing a tactical vest with a holstered pistol.
“Given all that is happening to women and others losing their rights, and the recent shootings at Club Q and other LGBTQ nightclubs, this is just a signal that we are not going to put up with this,” Lilith said.
The march also attracted opponents of the protest. Most hold signs expressing religious objections to the right to abortion. “I really don’t want to get involved in politics. I’m more interested in what the law of God says,” said John Goeke, a Wisconsin resident.
In the absence of federal protection in Roe v. Wade, abortion rights became a patchwork quilt from state to state.
Since June, a near total ban on abortion has been introduced in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Lawsuits are pending for some of these bans. The only clinic in North Dakota moved out of state to Minnesota.
Bans passed by legislators in Ohio, Indiana and Wyoming have been blocked by state courts while lawsuits are pending. And in South Carolina, the state Supreme Court struck down a ban on abortion on January 5 after six weeks, ruling that the ban violated the state’s constitutional right to privacy.
The Conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has ruled consistently in favor of the Republicans for decades, is likely to consider an appeal against the 1849 ban filed in June by State Attorney General Josh Kaul. The fight for the trial is officially non-partisan, but candidates have for years aligned themselves with either the conservatives or the liberals. contests turned into expensive guerrilla fights.
Women’s rallies were expected to take place in almost every state on Sunday.
Norma McCorvey’s eldest daughter, whose lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, was scheduled to attend the rally in Long Beach, California. Melissa Mills said it was her first Women’s March.
“It’s incredible that we’re back here doing the same thing my mom did,” Mills told The Associated Press. “We’ve lost 50 years of hard work.”
The women’s march has been a regular event — albeit interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic — since millions of people turned out to rally in the United States and around the world the day after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Trump has made the appointment of conservative judges a mission of his presidency. Three conservative justices he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court—Judges Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Associated Press journalists Chris Megerian and Seung Min Kim from Washington, DC contributed.
Claire Rush and Harm Wenhuizen are members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on hidden issues.
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