SHEBOYGAN - A steady stream of cars continued to honk in support of the approximately 200 people — men, women and children — who lined the street corners of a prominent Sheboygan intersection Sunday at a Rally for Reproductive Freedom.
The rally was organized by Sheboygan Abortion Rights Coalition in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortions at the federal level.
The Sheboygan rally was held at the corner of 14th Street and Erie Avenue. Similar protests have taken place across the nation and state, in cities like Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Eau Claire.
“It’s just a lot of anger and frustration,” Ashleigh Yonke, one of the Sheboygan Abortion Rights Coalition's leaders and protest organizer, said Sunday. “We shouldn’t be fighting this 40 years later, but we’re right back here again.”
‘We keep losing rights’
Rally participant Cassandra Brower said she thought about her 9-year-old self when she heard Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“I got my period at 9 years old," she said. "Now imagine there was incestual rape or anything like that, and I was forced to carry out that pregnancy. A 9-year-old should not have to carry out a full-term pregnancy."
A 1849 state law that makes abortions illegal in Wisconsin doesn’t give exceptions to cases of rape or incest.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that he wants to pass legislation that would expand Wisconsin's law to make exceptions in situations involving rape and incest, but was unsure if Republican colleagues in the Wisconsin Legislature would also support it.
Separate from cases of rape or incest, Brower said people with uteruses should be able to make choices about their own bodies.
“We're really not incubators if we don't want to have babies,” Brower said.
Participant Mary Jo Stoelb said she feels “we’re going backwards.”
“I feel that a woman's basic right to health care has been taken away by six appointed judges on the Supreme Court that are not having the best interests of women at heart,” Stoelb said. “We actually lost rights. We keep losing rights.”
She thinks opponents to abortion are imposing their views, she said.
"We're losing the basics of what we came here for in the first place, and that was to have our freedom of religion, (and) freedom from religion, and they're imposing their religious views upon us," Stoelb said. "The only reason that abortion is wrong is because of a morality issue."
Germaine Souik, leader of the Sheboygan branch of 40 Days for Life, shared support for the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
"We have been praying and working peacefully for years for this outcome," Souik said in an email. "Since 1973 over 60 million babies have been aborted in the U.S. Our prayers have been answered and this decision is a move toward the protection of the unborn from conception. We will continue to support life-affirming women's health centers, and the strengthening of marriages and families."
'I don't want to live in Wisconsin anymore'
Rally participant Elise Friedel said she wants to able to control her own body.
"I don't want to live in Wisconsin anymore," Friedel said.
Friedel stood with her friend Ava Stroessner at the rally Sunday. The pair held up signs reading “Keep your laws off my body” and “My body, my choice.”
Before participating in Sunday's rally, they had already been to a few other similar rallies in the city.
“As a woman, I feel unsafe and I feel scared to grow up and have to experience the United States like this,” Stroessner said, adding she feels sad for everyone else who’s “living like this.”
Russ Otten, chairman of the Republican Party of Sheboygan County, shared his support of the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement.
“The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a win for life and all of humanity, beginning at conception," Otten said in an email. "For decades, the majority of Americans have clearly stated their personal opposition to abortion. Friday's decision finally aligned with the majority.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of surveyed Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 37% of surveyed Americans said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
In a Marquette University Law School poll, 58% of Wisconsin voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 35% said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
The Sheboygan County Democratic Party shared Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Ben Wikler’s response to the overturning of Roe: “Overturning Roe v. Wade directly contradicts the will of the public, advice of countless medical professionals, and decades of settled law. In Sheboygan County, we will be fighting for the ability of each person to make their own decisions about their body, their life, their beliefs and their future.”
'It's her choice'
Ben Kunert, a participant in Sheboygan's Sunday rally, said even though he may not agree with a woman’s choice to have an abortion, it is still her choice.
“I know a lot of people that unfortunately had no choice but to have an abortion ... that have been raped and whatnot," Kunert said. "And I'm under the firm belief that it's her choice. And, granted, I'd rather have her make the right choice, but it's her choice.”
With the overturn, the 1849 Wisconsin law that bans doctors from performing abortions, except in life-saving situations for the mother, could be put back in place. Doctors who perform abortions under the state law could be charged with felonies, face up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Planned Parenthood of Sheboygan County — one of three locations in the state of Wisconsin ,in addition to Milwaukee and Madison — immediately suspended offering abortion care Friday.
The Planned Parenthood in Sheboygan saw 535 patients for medication abortion in 2020, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services data.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's Kathy King said four of the 70 scheduled patients underwent abortion procedures before the ruling was announced Friday.
Fear for overturning other rights
When rally participant Henry Rotter found out about the overturn at work on Friday, he became concerned about his family members, friends and girlfriend Addison Fowler, who was also at the rally.
"I was sick to my stomach, and it doesn't even affect me as a man, but my mom at home, and she's my girlfriend,” Rotter said, motioning to Fowler. “I've got cousins, I've got aunts, all my friends who are female — it just made me sick to my stomach.”
Fowler, who was also at work when she found out, said it was “baffling.”
“It just doesn’t feel real,” Fowler said.
Rotter said he’s concerned the overturn of Roe v. Wade will lead to gay rights being challenged.
“I've got a gay brother at home, a transgender cousin," Rotter said. "And I worry about what the overturning of this will do to their rights as human beings.”
Rebecca Stewart, Alyssia Clinton, Krista Coon and Emma Ladwig echoed concern for the LGBTQ community.
“I’m just thinking about what else they’re (Supreme Court) gonna come after next. If they got this, what else are they going to try and do next?” Ladwig said.
Coon said overturning Roe v. Wade was a setback.
“(I’m) just terrified for other stuff, because all of us are gay,” Coon said. “The Supreme Court judges have already brought up messages talking about Lawrence v. Texas. So, I guess gay marriage but also even just like legalizing being queer again — that's pretty terrifying.”
In Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion Friday, he said the Supreme Court “should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” The three cases resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that states cannot ban contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, respectively.
Stewart and Clinton are planning to get married, but now they’re not sure if that will be a possibility.
“We've waited to get married because we thought we had time, and now that's a big fear — what happens next? What do we have to do to prepare?” Stewart said.
Originally from California, a state that is still offering abortion access, Clinton is glad there is still access outside of Wisconsin.
“It kind of sucks that it's not legal here, but maybe we can change the minds of Wisconsin and only hope at this point,” Clinton said.
Stoelb thinks a way people can act on abortion access is to vote this fall.
“What other way is there?" Stoelb said. “It isn't what it was, and it isn't what it shouldn't be. And I cannot believe that our forefathers thought that this was the way it was supposed to be.”
Otten also thinks elections will provide an opportunity for people against abortions to voice their opinions.
"With the authority to protect life now at the state level, it is crucial to elect those who will do just that," Otten said. "Furthermore, it is up to all citizens to demand that our state attorney general and local district attorney prosecute those who break the laws banning abortion."
Brower thinks state and local politicians need to use their voices.
“I know that there are voices that could be used, especially from higher up like that," Brower said. "Just use their voices to the best that they can.”
Looking to what’s next, Fowler said she thinks Gov. Tony Evers’ announcement to offer clemency to doctors if they are prosecuted under the 1849 law is a good step.
Evers made the announcement Saturday during an abortion rights rally at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention.
Fowler also added that Wisconsin is a neighbor to Minnesota and Illinois, states that still have laws protecting women's access to abortion. Providers and government leaders from many of these states have already vowed to be a "haven" for people seeking abortion care.
Yonke said the number of people who attended Sunday's rally in Sheboygan gave her hope.
“We have a long way to fight,” Yonke said, adding that the Sheboygan Abortion Rights Coalition is working on more ways for people to get abortion access and care.
This article originally appeared on Sheboygan Press: Roe v. Wade: Sheboygan rally draws hundreds after SCOTUS decision