Thousands of activists chanting, banging drums and wielding placards flooded streets across the US on Saturday in a national day of action calling for safe and legal access to abortion.
The mass demonstrations were a response to a leaked draft opinion showing the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is poised to overturn Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion access nationwide.
“Nobody has the right to make a decision on somebody else’s body,” said Hanna Williamson, 20, who drove three hours to join several thousand protesters in Washington.
Thousands more people assembled in a central square in Brooklyn, New York, to carry a giant pink banner that read: “Our Bodies. Our Futures. Our Abortions.”
The protesters, who included Democratic senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and other influential Democrats, were of all genders and ages and many wore green, a symbolic color of abortion rights activism.
“We’re gonna keep fighting until we win,” Schumer told AFP. “America is on our side.”
Allison Easter, 58, called the turnout “encouraging.”
“There’s so many young people, so many mothers wheeling their babies, so many people with their husbands or boyfriends, so many men – so many different kinds of people support this cause,” she told AFP.
She said that the political push to restrict or ban abortion was “about power and control.”
“There are a lot of people who have very traditional values, and are frightened by women who can make choices about their own body,” Easter said, as a crush of demonstrators flooded into lower Manhattan.
“I know there are people who think it’s about religion, but if you look at the things they’ve done in the name of religion, it doesn’t bear true.”
‘Contrary to our founding’
Thousands of people also rallied in Texas and Kentucky, with smaller events elsewhere in the country.
“These are a group of people in this country who are working to dismantle 60 years of civil rights and civil liberties of the US,” Linda Sarsour, a prominent political activist, told AFP in New York.
“We respect everybody’s right to hold whatever religious belief or whatever opinion they have on an issue like abortion,” she continued.
“What we want you to know is that you can do you – and allow people to still have access to safe, affordable, women’s reproductive rights.”
The leak of the draft opinion ignited fury over the potential rollback of abortion rights ahead of November’s key midterm elections, when control of both congressional chambers is at stake.
Democrats have pushed to codify abortion rights into federal law, a bid to pin down Republicans on the divisive issue ahead of the polls.
The House-passed Women’s Health Protection Act would assure health care professionals have the right to provide abortions and that patients have the right to receive them.
But Republicans and one Democrat in the US Senate tanked the effort to advance the measure earlier this week.
Nanette Rosenbaum, 64, told AFP she demonstrated in New York as an adolescent: “I never expected that 50 years later I’d be back on the streets again.”
Calling the Supreme Court “too politicised and much too partisan,” Rosenbaum said that “in a country like America, who fought for individual rights,” restricting legal abortion access “seems contrary to our founding.”
“I feel as strongly now as I did when I was a teenager, and I hope – I fervently hope – that we’ll make a difference.”
‘Women want choices’
A new Politico/Morning Consult poll has 53% of voters saying Roe should not be overturned, up three percentage points since last week, while 58% said it was important to vote for a candidate who supports abortion access.
Republican-controlled states have taken steps to restrict abortion rights in recent months, and overturning Roe v Wade would grant them greater latitude to restrict or ban the procedure.
The right to access abortion has long triggered activism, but the Supreme Court leak has spurred an uptick in demonstrations, including outside the homes of justices.
The largely peaceful protests have drawn Republican criticism over privacy rights of court members, but activists have responded by pointing to years of often violent protests outside abortion clinics and at the homes of doctors providing the medical procedure.
In Washington, protesters, many dressed in pink and wielding placards, marched near the Supreme Court on Saturday.
“It’s very important to be here to take a stand and really say to the people who are making these decisions that women want choices and they want freedom to have that choice,” said Viesha Floyd, 32.
“The reason I’m here is for those women, the future generations.”