WASHINGTON — Protesters assembled outside the Supreme Court, took to the streets in large cities and gathered in town parks Friday to protest a historic ruling from the high court that 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 protesters grappled with news that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was struck down after five decades.
Similar crowds took over 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.”
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. Local television footage showed some protesters marching on one major freeway before 8 p.m.
“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, like California, wouldn’t rise up, thinking, “this isn’t affecting me.”
“These are women’s lives at risk,” she said. “…There are already abortion deserts and there are already women that are disproportionately affected by this.”
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.”
Across Tennessee, protesters, many wearing green – which has become a symbol of the pro-abortion rights movement – rallied in disgust.
In Middle Tennessee, several hundred people gathered at the Tennessee Legislative Plaza outside the state capitol building Friday evening. The protest, organized by Planned Parenthood, featured a march from the plaza to the Nashville Public Square Park.
In East Tennessee, hundreds of abortion rights protesters converged on downtown Knoxville’s Krutch Park.
The Bans Off Our Bodies rally took over a popular park adjacent to Market Square and then turned into a march.
“We just want to make our voices heard,” said Rachel Smith, who attended the protest with a friend. “Not everyone in every red state agrees with the decisions being made.”
In the Georgia city of Savannah, which is home to one of the few abortion clinics outside the Atlanta area, about 300 people took to the streets even as a thick layer of humidity stuck in the air.
People of all ages held signs, including ones saying abortion is health care. Sweat glistened off protesters’ unsmiling faces as they chanted, “My body, my choice” to drums and tambourines that punctuated their words.
The Supreme Court Decision has several implications for Black Americans, especially in the South. Black women receive about one-third of all abortions in the country, the largest proportion of any racial group, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also reports that Black women make up an even larger share of abortion seekers in Georgia at 65%. Coupled with the state’s staggering maternal mortality rate, cutting abortion access could lead to an even greater crisis.
“Black women are oppressed people when you think of the hierarchy. And then we’re so marginalized to the point that Black women will have a hard time finding accessible abortion,” said Ni’Aisha Banks, a Savannah resident at the rally. “Because white people, they’re able to travel and go other places. For Black women, it’s going to be much harder for us.”
In Ohio, hundreds gathered outside the statehouse Friday night, chanting “bans off our bodies” and “abortion is health care.”
Troopers watched as the group marched closer to the statehouse. Many carried signs, some of them with expletives aimed at Republican officials — including Gov. Mike DeWine.
Carol Garrabrant, 68, of Columbus, said she protested in the sixties and seventies before Roe, and now she’s back with her daughter.
“No matter how bad it gets, just keep trying and keep making your voice heard,” she said with tears.
Several hundred gathered in Pennsylvania outside an office for Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican who represents an area just north of Philadelphia.
“As a woman, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, I cannot believe we are here again,” said Janet Ecksel, of Upper Southampton, standing in a Middletown parking lot. “Once again, women will need to have illegal, self-induced abortions and women will die.”
In Michigan’s Port Huron, which borders the Great Lakes and Canada’s borders, dozens gathered to protest in Pine Grove Park.
Active with the local Democratic party at age 83, Carolyn Holley said she remembered fighting for Roe in the 1970s.
“I thought it was good. I thought it was going to be there,” she said, holding up a sign that read, “We don’t go back.”
They called for an emergency protest Friday to make their voices heard. “Abortion doesn’t go away because they outlaw it. It becomes illegal, but it never goes away,” she said.
Protesters rally outside home of Justice Thomas, more planned Saturday
A small group of protesters rallied near the home of Justice Clarence Thomas, despite an intense law enforcement presence that blocked the crowd from nearing the conservative justice’s home just outside of Washington.
The Fairfax County police department, Fairfax County Sheriff’s department and the U.S. Marshals Service were among the agencies stationed around Thomas’s house, preventing the crowd from advancing down his street with large orange traffic barrels.
While Thomas was just one vote in the majority 6-3 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, he also issued a concurring opinion that the high court should also “reconsider” other rights established by the high court, including access to contraception and gay marriage.
The protesters, some holding signs that read, “I am a woman, not a womb,” and “Our rights are not up for debate,” stood in a line, waved flags and repeatedly chanted for the high court to “regulate guns, not our bodies.”
Rev. Joseph Little of Washington D.C. held a sign that said “forced birth is enslavement.” Any person who has had their choice taken away becomes oppressed, Little said.
“Some of us out here may say we may never get an abortion, but it’s the fact that it’s an open access in case somebody needs it,” Little said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat, if you’re a Jew or Gentile. You have a choice in the matter. What they did today was oppress people by taking away their choice.”
The protesters also targeted the justice’s wife, Ginni Thomas, who has become a controversial figure over her role in pressuring officials to overturn the 2020 election.
“Ginni Thomas is,” one protester started off the chants. “An insurrectionist,” the others responded.
Another round of protests are scheduled Saturday outside the homes of other conservative justices.
Anti-abortion activists celebrate, rally; arrests reported
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.
In Florida, two people were arrested after a small group of anti-abortion activists gathered at the only Polk County clinic that offers the procedure.
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At EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the lone full-time abortion clinic in Kentucky, a few activists 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: Robert Hanashiro, Kenneth Tran and Katherine Swartz, USA TODAY; Kirsten Fiscus, The (Nashville) Tennessean; Liz Kellar, Knoxville News Sentinel; Abby Bammerlin and Titus Wu, The Columbus Dispatch; Nancy Guan, Laura Nwogu and Zoe Nicholson, Savannah Morning News;James McGinnis, Bucks County Courier Times (Pennsylvania); Jackie Smith, Port Huron Times Herald (Michigan); 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.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism