On the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, demonstrators rallied for abortion rights protections across the country Sunday, led by a national demonstration in Madison, Wisconsin – a location reflecting the shift in focus on reproductive rights at the state level.
Abortion rights activists have marched on Jan. 22, called Roe v. Wade Day, each year since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court decision first granted federal protections for abortion rights. But Sunday, activists were also mourning the ruling after it was overturned last year.
The demonstration, dubbed “Bigger Than Roe,” was “about maintaining momentum and building community,” as well as holding space for the conflicting emotions many people may feel on the day, Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, which organized the marches, told USA TODAY.
While protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., and over 180 other locations nationwide, according to the Women’s March map, the main march was in Madison. The location was meant to symbolize how the nation’s abortion battle has shifted to states after last year’s seismic Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Carmona said.
“The fight is in the states now, so that’s where we’re going,” she said.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of anti-abortion protesters celebrated the overturn of Roe v. Wade in events over the weekend, including the annual March for Life on Friday with the theme “Next Steps: Marching in a Post-Roe America.”
National march in Wisconsin reaches state Capitol building
Protesters participating in Sunday’s demonstration first gathered on the campus of University of Wisconsin-Madison, marched on Madison’s most well-known thoroughfare of State Street, and concluded the event with a two-hour rally in the rotunda of the state Capitol. Bundled in gloves, scarves and wool hats, the group marched to the rotunda in below-freezing temperatures.
Organizers of the National Women’s March picked Wisconsin’s capital city for the organization’s annual rally to put the state’s upcoming Supreme Court race under a political magnifying glass, underscoring the election’s importance to the abortion debate in places such as Wisconsin where doctors could face felony criminal charges for performing the procedure now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.
“My daughter and all the young women I know have had the right to privacy − the constitutional right to privacy − taken away from them,” said Kay Wilson, 71, of Jefferson, Wisconsin.
The march also drew counterprotesters. Most held signs raising religious objections to abortion rights. “I don’t really want to get involved with politics. I’m more interested in what the law of God says,” John Goeke, a Wisconsin resident, said.
Abortions were legal in Wisconsin until about 20 weeks of pregnancy until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, putting abortion policymaking back into statehouses. The ruling put back into place a state law drafted by Wisconsin lawmakers in the 19th century that criminalizes the procedure.
Smaller demonstration begins in nation’s capital
Several hundred people gathered Sunday in cold, drizzly weather a few blocks from the White House to register their disdain for the Supreme Court’s June 6 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Many carried homemade signs calling for “safe, affordable” access to reproductive rights.
The crowd of marchers was confronted by about a dozen anti-abortion protesters who chanted through a bullhorn.
The marchers got underway a few minutes early, making their way through an otherwise mostly empty downtown Washington, chanting, “Our bodies, our choice” and “Our rights are not up for debate” as they went. Those chants continued as the group stopped on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
As she made the short walk to the White House, Elise Iannone, 30, recalled the day the court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. First she felt sadness, she said. Then anger. Now, she said, it’s about being motivated to reverse the damage she believes has been done.
“It’s important to protect anyone with a uterus to be able to do what they want with their body,” said Iannone, a Virginia resident. “This isn’t a church or a state responsibility.”
Protesters motivated to march for reproductive rights and more
Though the nation’s capital was not the central location for this year’s march, protesters still gathered in downtown D.C. to voice their frustration with the Dobbs decision and its impact on their lives and those of their loved ones.
“Roe has been around almost my entire life,” said Lynn Hacker, a 50-year-old Maryland resident who was attending the event with her 15-year-old daughter. “I never had to think about reproductive rights, but she will.”
Hacker said she cried when the Supreme Court handed down its opinion overturning Roe. But as much as abortion was the driving force for many who gathered in Washington, it wasn’t the only issue.
“We’re in a dangerous period our in our nation,” said Jennifer Tucker, a Washington, D.C., resident. The ebbing of abortion rights, she said, is “just one vehicle to suppress the wishes of the public.”
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Kamala Harris marks 50th anniversary of Roe by urging greater access
Vice President Kamala Harris commemorated the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade Sunday by traveling to Florida to deliver remarks, making the case for a federal law to protect reproductive rights.
Harris called on Congress to pass legislation that would enshrine into federal law the right to abortion, asking: “Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body? Can we truly be free if the doctor cannot care for her patients?”
Harris also announced that President Joe Biden will sign a memorandum aimed at helping people get abortions via medication, rather than a surgical procedure.
The memorandum directs members of his Cabinet and administration to identify barriers to access to prescription abortion medication and recommend ways to ensure that doctors can legally prescribe the medication and that pharmacies can dispense them. The memorandum also will explore ways to see that women can access abortion medication from a pharmacy.
“We will never back down,” Harris said.
Harris delivered her remarks in Tallahassee, the state’s capital. The choice of venue is no accident: The Florida Legislature passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The state Supreme Court is reviewing a legal challenge to the law. Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican, said she would support a 12-week abortion ban, while abortion activists are pushing for other restrictions.
Contributing: Michael Collins, Associated Press