Women’s marches demanding the protection of abortion rights are set to draw thousands of people across the country on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a federal right to an abortion.
Organizers said they are now focusing on states after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe in June unleashed a flurry of abortion restrictions and near-total bans in more than a dozen states.
“We are going to where the fight is, and that is at the state level,” reads the website for the Women’s March. The group has dubbed this year’s rallies “Bigger than Roe.”
The main march will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, where upcoming state Supreme Court elections could determine the balance of power on the court and the future of abortion rights in the state.
Abortions are unavailable in Wisconsin due to legal uncertainties faced by abortion clinics.
Two days ago, the annual March for Life drew tens of thousands of freshly galvanized anti-abortion activists to Washington, D.C. Abortion opponents are increasingly setting their sights on Congress with the aim of pushing for a potential national abortion restriction down the line.
In the absence of Roe v. Wade’s federal protections, abortion rights have become a state-by-state patchwork. In some states, officials have grappled with laws banning abortion that dated from the 1800s and were still on the books.
In Wisconsin, abortion clinics are facing legal questions over whether an 1849 law banning the procedure is in effect. The law, which prohibits abortion except to save the patient’s life, is being challenged in court.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, with the support of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, filed the challenge to the 1849 ban in June in Dane County, where Madison is located, arguing that it is too old to enforce. Both sides have been trading briefs since and it’s unclear when a ruling may come, but the case looks destined to land at the state Supreme Court.
Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled state Supreme Court, which for decades has issued consequential rulings in favor of Republicans, is likely to hear the case. Races for the court are officially nonpartisan, but candidates for years have aligned with either conservatives or liberals as the contests have become expensive partisan battles.
Evers, who made abortion central to his gubernatorial reelection campaign, has called on the Republican-controlled state Legislature on several occasions to put the abortion decision in the hands of voters. Republican leaders have expressed willingness to introduce exceptions to the law in cases of rape or incest, but Evers has remained firm that he will not sign into law anything short of the protections that existed under Roe.
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Beyond Wisconsin, women’s rallies are expected to be held in nearly every state on Sunday.
The Women’s March has become a regular event — although interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic — since millions of women turned out in the United States and around the world the day after the January 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Trump made the appointment of conservative judges a mission of his presidency. The three conservative justices he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — all voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
— Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed reporting from Madison, Wisconsin. Claire Rush is a corps member for 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 undercovered issues.