Health care providers march to GOP headquarters to rally support for abortion

By: - October 28, 2022 7:00 am

Health care providers marched for abortion rights at a rally on Thursday. Photo by Baylor Spears/Wisconsin Examiner.

The mere mention of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban, which includes no exceptions for rape or incest, elicited boos and disapproving shouts from nurses, doctors and other health care professionals at a rally Thursday.  

Attendees, organized by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the state’s largest health care union, the Working Families Party and several other organizations, gathered on a street corner outside the Wisconsin State Capitol for their “Speak Out for Reproductive Freedom” march.

The health care providers — who oppose the current abortion law, which pre-dates the Civil War — urged people to vote for Democrats up and down the ballot on Nov. 8. 

“We understand better than anyone that abortion care is part of the spectrum of pregnancy care: from fertility treatment to miscarriage management to caring for women with complicated pregnancies,” said Kristin Lyerly, an OB-GYN physician from Green Bay, at the rally. “Abortion isn’t the binary choice that politicians would have you make.” 

The Supreme Court’s June decision to revert abortion law back to state jurisdiction threw abortion into the spotlight this election season, especially in Wisconsin. Democrats in the state are betting the issue will boost voter turnout and are working to keep conversation centered on it. Some Republican candidates have addressed the issue by doubling down on their anti-abortion views while others have changed their position. 

Gov. Tony Evers, running for reelection against GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels, called a special session of the Legislature in September to create a referendum process that would allow voters to decide on the issue, similar to a recent Kansas referendum. Republicans gaveled in and out of the session within 60 seconds earlier this month. Michels, however, recently softened his position, saying he would sign a bill that included exceptions for rape and incest.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, running for reelection against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, has cosponsored multiple national abortion ban bills during his two terms in office, though he also reiterated a call for an abortion referendum to let voters decide earlier this month. Barnes said he favors allowing women to make decisions on abortion in consultation with their doctors. 

Health care providers carrying signs that read “We won’t go back to 1849” and chanting, “My body, my choice,” marched to the Wisconsin Republican Party headquarters Thursday to deliver a letter addressed to Johnson, Michels and Republican attorney general candidate Eric Toney. 

A bearded man in a plaid shirt and red hat exited onto a balcony when the group arrived. He filmed the gathering of nurses and doctors from above and then went back inside. 

A man from inside the Republican Party headquarters filming the group of health care providers. Photo by: Baylor Spears/Wisconsin Examiner.

Colin Gillis with UW Nurses United then stood on the porch of the headquarters and began reading the letter signed by many professionals: “Abortion is a deeply personal decision that should be made by patients and families in the privacy of their homes and doctors’ offices, not by extremist politicians in government. We took an oath to protect our patients, and the 1849 ban, which is now the law of the land, violates that core, fundamental value.”

Bri Moderhack, a 22-year-old cardiac nurse in Milwaukee, said it’s terrifying to be a provider who wants to help, but could potentially be restricted from offering medically necessary care to patients because of laws created by lawmakers who aren’t experts in the field. 

“People just don’t realize all of the risks that pregnancy actually comes with and how it’s not just giving birth,” Moderhack said. “There’s so many other risks that pregnancy carries that, you know, it is the woman’s decision to decide if she wants to risk that or not.” 

She also said it’s scary that health care providers might potentially have to choose between providing care or going to jail. 

GOP nominee for Wisconsin attorney general Eric Toney has said the 1849 ban should be enforced and that district attorneys should be able to cross  district lines to prosecute people who violate it, so if one won’t enforce it, then another can. AG Josh Kaul, the Democrat running for reelection, wants the law declared unenforceable. 

Another attendee at the Thursday rally, 75-year-old Ellie Connolly, said she grew up when abortion wasn’t legal, accessible or safe and contraception was also limited. The social activist and retired nurse said she couldn’t believe that this was still an issue that needed to be addressed.

“I’ve had a baby out of wedlock that I had to give up, and I’ve had an abortion,” Connolly said. “And I’ll tell you which is easier. The abortion was easier.”


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.