WASHINGTON – A sea of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court Friday, one of many rallies planned across the country after a historically consequential ruling from the high court ended the constitutional right to abortion.
An emotional crowd of hundreds carried signs and chanted “My body, my choice” at the steps of the Supreme Court as they grappled with news that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was struck down after five decades.
Similar crowds took over city streets and marched in cities large and small, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and New York City.
Amid the protests, some anti-abortion activists heralded the day as a cause for celebration. Some even rallied outside abortion clinics and sparred with protesters.
President Joe Biden said the ruling puts women across the country in danger, but asked for those who gather in protest to remain peaceful.
“I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful,” he said. “Violence is never acceptable. Threats and intimidation are not speech. We must stand against violence in any form regardless of your rationale.”
In anticipation of mounting demonstrations, the U.S. Capitol Police said it was mobilizing additional officers and resources while working with other law enforcement agencies.
Protesters rally on the steps of the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court, Serena Steiner — a 35-year-old legal assistant from Alexandria, Virginia — had tears in her eyes as she spoke about how the decision would affect her sisters and others nationwide. Steiner texted her sisters after news broke of the ruling, she said, encouraging them to get IUDs and saying “RIP Roe v. Wade.”
“I don’t want them to be forced to have children they don’t want to have,” she said.
Steiner said she “benefitted from access to abortion as a teenager” and wants abortion healthcare to be accessible to all who need it. Still, she wasn’t surprised by the ruling, she said.
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Robin Sabbath, 59, of Detroit Michigan, was in her hotel in Washington, D.C. when the ruling was announced. Sabbath said she is no longer in her “child-bearing years” but came to the protest because “the government should not have the right to tell me what to do regarding my reproductive health.”
“It’s my body, my choice. Period,” said Sabbath, who works in library nonprofits. “We should all be able to make the choices that are best for us and for our families.”
Jenny LaJeunnese was in town visiting from Atlanta and had no plans to visit the Supreme Court. Then she saw the ruling.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have taken (abortion) for granted,” she said outside the court. The 44-year-old librarian has felt protected by the landmark ruling her entire life and protesting outside the court helped her “not feel tiny, insignificant, or helpless.”
Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists also gathered in Washington. Some sparred with protesters outside the court, though the demonstration remained peaceful. Several people were seen being escorted by police as shouting broke out between the groups.
Meanwhile, a key bridge connecting Maryland to D.C. was shut down for hours after a person climbed up one of the arches on the Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge. Footage taken by local news stations showed the person, wearing a red T-shirt, sitting atop the bridge.
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Hundreds of protesters — some carrying large, bright green posters reading, “Overturn Roe? Hell no” — marched along the streets of New York from Union Station through Washington Square Park. The chants of, “We will rise up” and “Abortion is a human right,” echoed throughout Lower Manhattan.
Brooklyn resident Mahayana Landowne stood silently at the protest. Dressed as a blindfolded Lady Justice with red paint on her hands to symbolize blood, Landsdowne said “the Supreme Court has blood on their hands for their actions yesterday and today, for easing the gun laws and for denying women the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies.”
In Los Angeles, a similar crowd gathered in outrage to protest the decision.
“I was gutted,” Becca Waite, 34, said as the crowd rallied behind her with loud speakers. The traveling nurse who has been in L.A. for six years said she worried some Americans in cities and states where abortion remains legal wouldn’t rise up, thinking, “this isn’t affecting me.”
“These are women’s lives at risk,” she said. “And I say that people think they feel safe to realize that there are already abortion deserts and there are already women that are disproportionately affected by this. Roe v. Wade was the very bottom of the barrel for women’s rights. And now they’ve overturned that.”
A mix of protesters, some for abortion rights and others celebrating the ruling, gathered outside a Planned Parenthood in Fort Collins, Colorado, about 65 miles north of Denver. The state is one of seven without any restrictions on when a pregnancy can be terminated.
The day started with a group of anti-abortion demonstrators and even included a fight between converging groups. Police responded but no charges were pursued. As the day wore on, they were replaced with a large group of people protesting the Supreme Court’s decision, holding signs that read “Her Body, Her Choice!” and “Safe + Legal Abortions = Pro Life.”
“I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” said Natasha Schwartz, a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood who came out to support the protesters while on her lunch break.
I’m very thankful I live in a very liberal state,” Schwartz added. “But for everyone else who doesn’t, I feel very scared for.”
In Jacksonville, Florida Planned Parenthood PAC members stood outside City Hall, holding hands. Some were stoic while others had tears welling in their eyes.
“Today I woke up holding my breath, reached for my phone and began refreshing my Twitter feed compulsively,” said Abbey Vickery, a local reproductive rights activist. “When I saw the news, I sat in all of the emotions I already knew were coming. The same ones that are so familiar to all of us — hurt, scared, furious.”
Baileigh Johnson, an activist who said she had an abortion when she was 29, wore a shirt that said “KEEP ABORTIONS SAFE.” She said abortions need to be “normalized.”
She added, “abortions save lives — it saved mine too.”
At EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the lone full-time abortion clinic in Kentucky, a few protesters gathered Friday morning outside the downtown facility.
Joseph Spurgeon, a pastor at a church in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana, said they had come out to celebrate “the grace of God,” adding he will continue to lead his congregation in pushing to outlaw not only medications capable of terminating pregnancies, but contraceptives such as Plan B.
Contributing: Kenneth Tran and Katherine Swartz, USA TODAY; Ricardo Kaulessar, The Record (Bergen, New Jersey); Pat Ferrier and Erin Udell, Fort Collins Coloradoan; Lucas Aulbach, (Louisville) Courier Journal; Emily Bloch, Florida Times-Union