Pro-abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion rights activists took to the streets of the United States capital on Monday night, shortly after a leaked draft majority opinion indicated the country’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court planned to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which legalised abortion nationwide.
The rival protests in Washington, DC embodied a debate over access to abortion that has polarised US politics for decades.
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In front of the Supreme Court, hundreds of abortion rights supporters shouted “Abortion is healthcare” and “My body, my choice”.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion rights advocates also gathered at the site chanted slogans such as, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v Wade has got to go”.
The 1973 Roe v Wade ruling prohibited states from banning abortions within the first trimester of pregnancy, arguing that the hardship caused by prohibiting abortions amounted to a violation of an individual’s constitutionally protected right to privacy.
Subsequent Supreme Court rulings, notably in the Planned Parenthood of southeastern Pennsylvania versus Casey in 1992, have further prohibited states from creating “undue burdens” for those seeking an abortion.
The draft majority opinion obtained by Politico magazine was written by Justice Samuel Alito and supported by four other conservatives on the nine-member bench. It called the Roe v Wade decision “egregiously wrong from the start”.
While the leaked draft is subject to change before it is made official, and it remains possible a justice could shift their vote, the document is a strong indication of the direction the court is heading in its decision.
In Washington, DC, Abby Korb, a 23-year-old postgraduate student and congressional aide, told the AFP news agency she had rushed to the Supreme Court as soon as the news broke of the leaked opinion.
A couple hundred people or so have gathered tonight outside of the Supreme Court to protest the draft decision overturning Roe v Wade. They're chanting slogans like "abortion is healthcare" and "my body, my choice." pic.twitter.com/kIFwLjBDAP
— Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod) May 3, 2022
She described her feeling as “literal shock”.
“I’m a woman and my rights are being taken away every single day,” she said.
Meanwhile, Claire Rowan, a 55-year-old mother of seven, some of whom accompanied her to the anti-abortion rights demonstration, said: “I hope they overturn it.”
Rowan said she hopes people will now be “asking God for forgiveness so that the nation can heal”.
The leaked opinion has prompted both condemnation and praise from legislators, with US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer saying the move “would go down as an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history”.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Congress must pass legislation that codifies Roe v Wade as the law of the land in this country NOW.”
The issue of abortion rights is certain to take centre stage as the US heads towards midterm elections in November.
The polls will determine if Democrats will hold their razor-thin majorities in the US Congress for the next two years of President Joe Biden’s term.