WASHINGTON (AP) — Abortion rights supporters demonstrating at hundreds of marches and rallies Saturday expressed their outrage that the Supreme Court will soon scrap the constitutional right to abortion that has endured for nearly a half-century and their fear about what that could mean for women’s reproductive choices.
Incensed after a leaked draft opinion suggested the court’s conservative majority would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, activists spoke of the need to mobilize quickly because Republican-led states are poised to enact tighter restrictions.
In the nation’s capital, thousands gathered in drizzly weather at the Washington Monument to listen to fiery speeches before marching to the Supreme Court, which was surrounded by two layers of security fences.
The mood was one of anger and defiance, three days after the Senate failed to muster enough votes to codify Roe v. Wade.
“I can’t believe that at my age, I’m still having to protest over this,” said Samantha Rivers, a 64-year-old federal government employee who is preparing for a state-by-state battle over abortion rights.
Caitlin Loehr, 34, of Washington, wore a black T-shirt with an image of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “dissent” collar on it and a necklace that spelled out “vote.”
“I think that women should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and their lives. And I don’t think banning abortion will stop abortion. It just makes it unsafe and can cost a woman her life,” Loehr said.
A half-dozen anti-abortion demonstrators sent out a countering message, with Jonathan Darnel shouting into a microphone, “Abortion is not health care, folks, because pregnancy is not an illness.”
From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, and Nashville, Tennessee, to Lubbock, Texas, tens of thousands participated in “Bans off our Bodies” events. Organizers expected that among the hundreds of events, the largest would take place in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other big cities.
“If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” Rachel Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said before the march.
Polls show that most Americans want to preserve access to abortion — at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy — but the Supreme Court appeared to be poised to let the states have the final say. If that happens, roughly half of states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are expected to quickly ban abortion.
The battle was personal for some protesters.
Teisha Kimmons, who traveled 80 miles to attend the Chicago rally, said she fears for women in states that are ready to ban abortion. She said she might not be alive today if she had not had a legal abortion when she was 15.
“I was already starting to self harm and I would have rather died than have a baby,” said Kimmons, a massage therapist from Rockford, Illinois.
At that rally, speaker after speaker said that if abortion is banned that the rights of immigrants, minorities and others will also be “gutted,” as Amy Eshleman, wife of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot put it.
“This has never been just about abortion. It’s about control,” Eshleman told the crowd of thousands. “My marriage is on the menu and we cannot and will not let that happen.”
One of the biggest marches was in New York City. Thousands of people gathered in Brooklyn’s courthouse plaza before a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan for another rally at Foley Square.
“We’re here for the women who can’t be here, and for the girls who are too young to know what is ahead for them,” Angela Hamlet, 60, of Manhattan, said to the backdrop of booming music.
Robin Seidon, who traveled from Montclair, New Jersey, for the rally, said the nation was a place abortion rights supporters have long feared.
“They’ve been nibbling at the edges, and it was always a matter of time before they thought they had enough power on the Supreme Court, which they have now,” said Seidon, 65.
Other marchers felt it was important to bring the whole family. “I chose to be a mother and I want him to know that,” rally organizer Paula Avila said, while gesturing to her one-and-a-half-year-old son. “I want to fight for him to be whatever he wants to be in life.”
There were some celebrities mixed in the crowd such as Cyndi Lauper and Laura Dern, along with politicians who held their own press conference on the side.
“Fifty years of allowing women the right to choose is not going away in New York City,” Mayor Eric Adams said at the news conference. “This city is always going to respect women.”
New York State Attorney General Letitia James added: “I celebrate Roe v. Wade and demand that it not be overturned, and it if it is overturned, we will protect the rights of those seeking abortions in New York State.”
James helped lead the way as thousands crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and headed into Foley Square where a small group of counter-demonstrators awaited them.
“Abortion, at any stage, is nothing else than the murder of an innocent baby,” said Dimitri, a counter-protester who only wanted to give his first name.
After the rally ended, Joy D. Calloway, Interim CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York & PPGNY Action Fund issued this statement:
“Today the world witnessed the power behind the fight for abortion justice. And this is only the beginning. We refuse to sit idly while the Supreme Court and narrow-minded politicians deny us our right to full bodily autonomy – which will always include the right to decide our own reproductive futures.
Abortion bans fail people who struggle to make ends meet. Abortion bans neglect the humanity of transgender and nonbinary people. Abortion bans perpetuate centuries of racism that continue to oppress Black women and all communities of color today.
We will achieve true justice only when we crush these systems and ensure equitable, affordable access to essential health care. Abortion is health care.”
The upcoming high court ruling in a case from Mississippi stands to energize voters, potentially shaping the upcoming midterm elections.
In Texas, which has a strict law banning many abortions, the challenger to one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress marched in San Antonio.
Jessica Cisneros joined demonstrators just days before early voting begins in her primary runoff against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, which could be one of the first tests over whether the court leak will galvanize voters.
In Chicago, Kjirsten Nyquist, a nurse toting daughters ages 1 and 3, agreed about the need to vote. “As much as federal elections, voting in every small election matters just as much,” she said.
At many of the rallies, speakers put the issue in stark terms, saying women and girls will die if abortions are outlawed.
In Los Angeles, high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred recounted how she could not get a legal abortion after being raped at gunpoint in the 1960s. She ended up having life-threatening bleeding after an illegal “back alley” abortion.
“I want you to vote as though your lives depend on it, because they do,” she told the crowd.