Madison reacts to leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning abortion rights

Crowds of people gathered at the state Capitol in Madison in early May, less than 24 hours after the leak of a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would undo Roe v. Wade, taking away constitutional protection of the right to an abortion in the United States. The draft opinion made public on May 2, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, would leave the decision for how and when abortion would be legal — or illegal — up to individual states.

Protests like this were happening around the country, almost immediately — people gathered to find solidarity with others. In Madison, the first reactions to the draft opinion were those of outrage, shock and support.

“My own individual experiences brought me here, just as everyone else. It’s just really important to be out here, you know? And I’m going to be out here again,” said Alea, who was among the protesters. (She declined to give her last name because of the sensitivity of the issue.) “There’s gonna be more [protests]. This is not over. This is not just the first [protest]. It is the first of many.”

  • Protesters in Madison gathered at an emergency rally May 3, the day after the opinion leak to overturn abortion rights.
  • A child overlooks the Supreme Court draft opinion protest to overturn abortion rights at the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Abortion rights supporters rally outside the state Capitol building in Madison on May 3, 2022.
  • People arrive at the Capitol square to protest the leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade abortion rights.
  • Abortion rights protesters listen to rally speakers on the Capitol steps.
  • Activist Elisabeth Trenta with her sign, urging protesters to call their senators about abortion rights.

Protesters flooded the Capitol square on May 3, causing road shutdowns and slowdowns. The protest, which featured speakers of various viewpoints from differing demographics, started with chants and speeches on the steps of the Capitol. Women dressed in smocks, resembling costumes in The Handmaid’s Tale, stood in a silent circle with their heads down, college students flocked to the Capitol building with hand-painted signs.

Alley, a Madison protester who declined to give her first name because of the sensitivity of the issue, held a sign she made that read “Body Autonomy.” Alley said, “I’m fighting for those people who couldn’t get an abortion.” 

“If I get pregnant and I don’t want to be, I want to have the right to have an abortion,” Alley said. “I’ve never been pregnant before, so I’ve never had an abortion, but I am fighting for those specifically who wanted an abortion when they needed an abortion, like incest, rape or they had a miscarriage.”

Elizabeth Trenta, an abortion rights activist, urged her fellow protesters to ask their representatives about the Women’s Health Protection Act, which if passed would have solidified equal access to abortions across the US. (The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), was voted down 49-51 on Wednesday, May 11.)

Elizabeth Trenta, abortion rights activist:

“Without it what it’s going to mean is that, especially in states like Wisconsin where there are existing laws that ban abortion, Roe v. Wade is overturned that means that any abortions that happen are going to be in direct conflict with the law, which would then be full felonies,” Trenta said. “All of it is absolutely barbaric. And so, without this protection, that’s what’s on the table, and that’s a nightmare.”

After hearing speeches on the Capitol Square, the crowd then marched the length of historic State Street to the University of Wisconsin- Madison campus mall.

This collection of stories by professional master’s students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication explores a series of first experiences, contributions and movements across Dane County.


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