Thousands of abortion rights protesters gathered on the National Mall in the District on Saturday as national tensions remain high following the leaked draft majority opinion by the Supreme Court which would overturn Roe v. Wade.
The leaked opinion has mobilized abortion rights activists over the past week, with demonstrators converging at the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices to protest the high court‘s draft decision over the past week. Protesters turned out Saturday in several cities across the U.S. to rally in favor of abortion.
“It is Day 1 of a summer of rage,” Rachel Carmona, executive director of Women’s March and one of the organizers behind Saturday’s event, told the crowd gathered on the Mall. “The end of Roe and Casey are in plain sight and we will not go back.”
“It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the worst-case scenario come to life,” she said. “There will be deadly consequences for women. But it is also no exaggeration to say that women will fight back as we always have and meet this moment.”
Ms. Carmona called on the crowd to be “ungovernable until this government starts working for us,” and called the Supreme Court “illegitimate.”
Floods of sign-carrying protesters lined the hill below the Washington Monument before a large stage before marching the length of the Mall on Constitution Ave to the Supreme Court.
“It means we are the majority,” Abby Ellicott, a psychologist in her 60s from the greater Washington region said of the turnout, which event organizers estimated would be 17,000.
“It says people want abortion to be safe and legal,” she said “They do not want it to be illegal or difficult to access or impossible to access. That’s what this means.”
She said the leak of the opinion has started “a really important” conversation in the U.S.
“I think the conversation has demonstrated how outraged people are by what’s in the brief and by what the Supreme Court intends to do,” she said. “So I think it’s been a positive conversation. I’m just hoping it has the impact it needs to have.”
Justin Vogelhut, 41, carried a sign that read “Compulsory Pregnancy is Abuse” and said he was angered by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is a very personal matter,” he said of abortion. “This is an individual’s decision with their doctor. The government is deciding in this and making a law where it has no place in making a decision.”
SEE ALSO: McConnell: Impact of Supreme Court’s anticipated abortion ruling will be a ‘wash’ in midterms
Among the speakers before the march was Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, who recalled her experience having an abortion as a teenager.
“I know firsthand what being denied access to legal abortion looks like,” she said. “When I was a teenager I got an abortion. I was so afraid. I did not know what to expect, other than this decision could put my life in jeopardy. So I’m here to tell you. I have experienced the fear, the stigma, and despair of being denied the care that you need.”
“We’re here today to tell these radical extremists that if you criminalize people for having an abortion if you make abortion illegal if you take away our rights to make our personal decisions about our bodies, we will see you at the ballot box in November,” Ms. Lee said.
A small crowd of counter-protesters formed before a sign which read “The Whole World is Watching You Guys Screaming for Infant Blood” near where the crowd was gathered.
Jonathan Darnel, 40, and one of the counter-protesters said he was there to “counter the lies that are being preached” from the stage.
“We know there’s a lot of pro-abortion rhetoric that many abortion proponents don’t actually have to deal with,” he said. “They just suck the talking points in and they regurgitate them. And I think we’re able to counter a lot of those fairly effectively.”
Mr. Darnel said he was not representing a particular group, but said he urges Christians to get out in the streets to preach “the pro-life message.”
After several speakers addressed the crowd, the protesters converged on Constitution Avenue for the march to the Supreme Court.
Onlookers lined the street as the crowd, which stretched for blocks, passed by.
A brother and his sister, both area university students who wished to remain anonymous, watched the crowd pass by as they hashed out their disagreements over abortion.
The brother, who opposed abortion, said while some of the marchers had positive messages he took issue with some of the signs on display.
“I saw one sign that said GOP judges were like the Taliban, which is quite outrageous,” he said. “A terrorist organization which slaughters women compared to judges interpreting the Constitution. I think that’s also part of the atmosphere here mingling with some people on the other side also, you see they are emotionally driven. They forget that the court is interpreting the Constitution.”
The sister, who supports abortion, interrupted to say that it is not possible to separate emotions from the topic.
“I think that there are signs and there are arguments that are a bit too extreme and fringe, but it is a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has a family,” she said. “It’s a woman’s right to choose.”
But while the two disagreed on the topic of abortion, both said they feared that the U.S. was becoming too polarized.
“The people who organized this were able to mobilize a lot of people by appealing to their base,” the sister said. “But they didn’t appeal to the other side and so I think that this movement is a bit too radical. People are just repelled by it on the other side. You’re not gonna see Republican here except for my brother.”
The marchers loudly chanted “Abortion is healthcare!” and “Keep your theology off my biology!” as they made their way down Constitution Avenue.
Once outside the Supreme Court, the crowd continued to chant and wave signs before thinning and disbursing without incident.
Saturday’s event followed protests outside of conservative Supreme Court justices’ homes throughout the week which Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have condemned as crossing the line.
“I think it’s reprehensible. Stay away from homes and families of elected officials and members of the court,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told CNN on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called the protests “an attempt to replace the rule of law with the rule of mobs.”
“Trying to scare federal judges into ruling a certain way is far outside the bounds of First Amendment speech or protest,” he said.
Other lawmakers have backed the protesters.
“If protests are peaceful, yes,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Tuesday. “My house — there’s protests three, four times a week outside my house. The American way to peacefully protest is OK.”
The leaked Supreme Court decision also spurred an attempt by Senate Democrats to pass legislation that would codify the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion into law.
Republicans opposed the measure, known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, arguing that the bill would go far beyond codifying Roe v. Wade by erasing virtually all restrictions on abortion enacted by states.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, joined Republicans in opposing the measure, calling it “an expansion” of abortion.
The Senate voted 49-51 on a procedural vote on the measure, falling well shy of the necessary 60 votes.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Rep. Lee’s party affiliation. Ms. Lee is a Democrat.