Wisconsinites protest threat to overturn Roe v. Wade

Marches in red and blue areas of the state

By: - May 16, 2022 7:00 am
Rally for choice at the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, May 14 | Photo for the Examiner by Luther Wu

Rally for choice at the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, May 14 | Photo for the Examiner by Luther Wu

Hundreds of protesters filled the western corner of the Capitol lawn on Saturday advocating for abortion rights in light of the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Among them, one woman, who asked not to be named, held a sign showing a black-and-white photograph of her grandmother. With nine children at home, her grandmother had sought an illegal abortion in the early 1920’s and died. Her granddaughter’s sign read, “She had a heartbeat too.”

Gov. Tony Evers addresses the crowd at a prochoice rally at the Capitol on May 14, 2022 | Photo by Luther Wu
Gov. Tony Evers addresses the crowd at a prochoice rally at the Capitol on May 14, 2022 | Photo by Luther Wu

“The consequences of overturning Roe v Wade cannot be overstated,” Gov. Tony Evers told the crowd. “I’m old enough to remember the way things were before Roe. And it wasn’t pretty. That’s why I’m here to tell you today that we cannot go back. We can never go back.”

Evers addressed the crowd in a pink Planned Parenthood t-shirt and touted his vetoes of several bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature that would have restricted abortion access.

“I am a proud defender of reproductive rights,” Evers said. “I will never stop fighting to make sure you have a right to make your own reproductive health care decision without the interference of politicians.”

It was hardly surprising to hear such sentiments expressed at a rally in Madison. But a similar message was echoed by protesters in more conservative Sauk City.

Francine Hartman handing a sign to her friend Marie Jacobson, both from Madison | Photo by Luther Wu
Francine Hartman handing a sign to her friend Marie Jacobson, both from Madison | Photo by Luther Wu

“If women don’t have access to reproductive health measures, regardless of what you call them, they will die,” Terry Wellman said. “Their children will die. Their other children will be orphaned. Their families will be heartbroken. This is ridiculous.”

“To us, abortion is just part of women’s health,” Wellman’s  husband Chuck added. “If they need it, they need it. And we’re not gonna watch people die just because of an ectopic pregnancy that no one will help them with. That’s outrageous.”

The Wellmans, who live in Illinois but have a summer home near Sauk City, were two of about 60 protestors who gathered Saturday to line  the Highway 12 bridge over the Wisconsin River, the main thoroughfare in and out of Sauk City. It was one of several protests in smaller communities across Wisconsin.

For the younger protesters, such as Zoe Thayer, who was there with her mother, Jill, the protest was a chance to show support for a subject that doesn’t get talked about a lot in their communities.

Pro-choice protesters wave to passing traffic on the Highway 12 bridge over the Wisconsin River at Sauk City on Saturday, May 14, to voice support for legal abortion access. | Photo by Christina Lieffring
Pro-choice protesters wave to passing traffic on the Highway 12 bridge over the Wisconsin River at Sauk City on Saturday, May 14, to voice support for legal abortion access. | Photo by Christina Lieffring

“In small towns it feels like we don’t have a voice,” Thayer said. “People aren’t as loud in small towns versus in big towns like Madison. So I don’t think it’s a matter of there’s less approval and support in small towns, I think it’s more you just feel like you can’t say anything.”

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s draft decision was released, Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll, compiled data from the last decade into charts and graphs showing Wisconsinites have consistently supported abortion access in all or most cases. 

Even in the Village of Walworth Saturday’s coordinated action drew more than 100 protesters. And while, as in Sauk City, the protest in Walworth drew some negative attention, a large number of passing drivers honked and whooped in solidarity.

“We’re not the minority. We are the majority,” said Jill Mathews from Baraboo. “And unfortunately, those who have religious beliefs that ban abortion, that they think they should ban abortion, they are the ones who believe that they should choose for the rest of us. And that’s not appropriate. You have your choice. I have my choice. And that’s the way it is. And that’s the way it should be for all of our life choices.”

prochoice rally 05-14-2022
Photo by Luther Wu

For Mathews the issue of abortion struck close to home. Her mother had been a Planned Parenthood manager and “had been through quite a bit” Mathews said. Mathews was at the protest with her daughter, Mariellen Fleener, and granddaughter, 5-year-old Vivian Fleener.

“It’s very emotional because I want choice for my grandbaby,” Mathews said. “I want her to have a healthy uterus. I want her to have a healthy pregnancy and I want her to have a healthy life.”

Theirs wasn’t the only multi-generational family on the bridge. Zoe Whaley from Spring Green held a sign that read “A Mother By Choice, For Choice.”

“Motherhood is wonderful and it’s also incredibly challenging. And it should be something that I think every person who decides to become a mother or parent has the choice whether or not they do so,” Whaley said. “Our country doesn’t provide much support for parents after a child is born so I think that it becomes even more essential that people have the right to make a decision whether they want to become parents.”

She was there with her husband, 3-month old son, and mother, Gigi LaBudde, who said she had an abortion. LaBudde already had three children when she had an unplanned pregnancy.

“It was a hard choice but it was based on finances, mental health, anticipating what it would be like with this unplanned pregnancy and what kind of life we wanted to give our children,” LaBudde said. “It’s of course a hard decision when you’re in a stable relationship and you love your children, but it’s a choice. I want it to remain a choice.”

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Christina Lieffring
Christina Lieffring

Christina Lieffring is a freelance writer who previously worked at UpNorthNews and covered the city of Racine at The Journal Times, agriculture in Nebraska, and little bit of everything at KCUR 89.3, Kansas City's public radio station.

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