The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Crowds protest at Supreme Court after leak of Roe opinion draft

In cities across the country, demonstrators on both sides of the abortion issue hit the streets

Demonstrators face off outside the Supreme Court on May 3. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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For the second night in a row, protesters massed in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday to decry a leaked opinion by the court signaling it was positioned to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

More than a thousand abortion rights demonstrators filled the sidewalk and street outside the Supreme Court and demanded President Biden and fellow Democrats defend the right to an abortion. A much smaller group of antiabortion demonstrators, chanting and singing nearby, were separated from the group by police barricades and U.S. Capitol police.

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There was at least one violent scuffle between abortion rights and antiabortion protesters that resulted in a man being led away by police.

Protesters demonstrated at the Supreme Court for a second day on May 3 after a leaked draft opinion revealed a decision to overturn federal abortion rights. (Video: Jorge Ribas, Hadley Green, Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Parents put children on their shoulders, teenagers carried backpacks and others came directly from work to be outside the court, where they heard from local activists, advocates and politicians. Some of the speakers included Nee Nee Taylor, who is a co-conductor for Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a Black-led mutual aid and community defense organization, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).

At times, those gathered chanted, “Where is Joe?” and “Shame on Joe” as speakers demanded federal protections for abortion rights. They held signs that declared “Abortion is a human right,” “forced birth is un-American,” and “As A Girl, I Just Hope That 1 Day, I Have As Many Rights AS A GUN.”

Warren said those who will bear the brunt of a reversal of Roe are Black women, women who are poor, women who are raped and girls who have been molested or who are victims of incest.

“Right now the Supreme Court turns their back to every one of those women,” Warren said, later adding: “I’m here today because I am determined that we will not let this opinion stand.”

Warren called to end the filibuster to bring the issue to a vote in the Senate: “We need to keep having this vote until we win.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on May 3 accused Republicans of “cultivating” Supreme Court Justices after a draft opinion signaling the end of Roe v. Wade was leaked. (Video: SKY via AP)

Similar protests took place in cities and towns across the country Tuesday evening as abortion rights supporters and organizations including the Women’s March and NARAL Pro-Choice America rallied supporters to turn out and blast the court’s apparent move, first reported by Politico, to overturn its 49-year-old decision that the Constitution guarantees women the right to have an abortion.

In Texas, hundreds of abortion rights supporters marched from the state Capitol to the U.S. courthouse chanting, “My body my choice.” From there, they marched down Fifth Street and back up Congress Avenue, downtown Austin’s main thoroughfare, blocking traffic as police cars and officers blocked intersections. Several cars honked in support.

Maddy Moore, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, came to the protest prepared: In her backpack she had bottles of water, sunscreen, granola bars and a Sharpie she had used to create a protest sign. After she heard about the leaked Supreme Court document Monday night, “I knew I would do something about it,” she said. “It’s simply the fact that they’re taking away the rights of people with a uterus. It just feels like this is the start of other rights being taken away.”

More than a thousand demonstrators assembled in Manhattan’s Foley Square on Tuesday night.

Speakers forcefully condemned the draft decision, saying women’s reproductive rights would be protected “from Rochester to Rockville Center,” and “from Syracuse to Staten Island.” Demonstrators waved banners declaring “Abortion is healthcare,” and “No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”

A succession of speakers addressed the crowd. Demonstrators intermittently broke into spontaneous chants announcing “My body, my choice” and “No justice, no peace.”

Patricia Hannum, a 79-year-old New Yorker who attended the demonstration, described the prospect of Roe being overturned as a disaster.

“I’m one of those people who had to get an abortion when they weren’t legal,” Hannum said.

Hannum said she became pregnant after being the victim of a rape in 1965. The process of having an illegal abortion proved almost fatal and devastated her life for years after the event.

“I lost my job, I almost died, I lost everything,” Hannum said.

Demonstrators on both sides of the issue at the Supreme Court yelled at one another. One man holding a “LGBT+ Democrat standing for life” sign did not prove popular among passersby.

“You can’t be pro-life and a Democrat!” one woman shouted at the man. “You can!” he replied. “I am one!”

The tension ebbed and flowed throughout the day. D.C. police activated its Civil Disturbance Unit through the weekend, department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said. The Civil Disturbance Unit includes officers specially trained for crowd management and unrest.

On Tuesday evening, Amy Blasberg sat on the sidewalk behind hundreds of abortion rights supporters. She looked at her newborn son.

“Maybe when you grow up you won’t have to protest this anymore,” Blasberg, who lives in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood, said to her 4-week-old son Peter Lee. “We’ll see.”

Blasberg, 38, said she cried Monday night upon seeing the news of the leaked draft opinion. She had two difficult pregnancies with intense morning sickness that kept her from work as an early-childhood policy researcher. She said she can’t imagine forcing women to go through that if they didn’t choose to be pregnant.

Her aunt, Leslie Alexandre, sat next to her and sighed. Her first job out of college was as a receptionist at a Planned Parenthood location in San Mateo, Calif. The 64-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., watched as more people filled the street, some appearing to arrive straight from work.

When an abortion rights supporter took the microphone and spoke about their abortion as essential health care, Alexandre clapped with the crowd.

“If people don’t mobilize now, loud and clear, and at the voting booth,” she said, “we’re doomed.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spoke to the crowd and said the fight would continue in statehouses across the country and in Congress. She pointed to polling that shows a majority of Americans want Roe v. Wade to be upheld.

“Our Republican colleagues … have gone against the grain of the American people,” Klobuchar said. “They have gone against the grain of the women of America.”

Renee Bracey Sherman, who joined a group of demonstrators for a “speak-out” Tuesday morning to share their experiences with abortion, said: “All of our rights are absolutely at stake here. While this draft is truly just a draft and it is not impacting people’s lives, it is signaling where the court is thinking.”

A group of antiabortion demonstrators from organizations such as Students for Life and Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising — an organization whose members are being investigated by D.C. police after obtaining five fetuses in March — also gathered outside the Supreme Court, chanting and cheering with megaphones: “We are the pro-life generation, and we will abolish abortion!”

Tensions rose throughout the morning as the two groups of demonstrators dueled to be the focal point of the media’s cameras. “Abortion is violence!” one side cheered. The other group yelled back, “Cite your sources!”

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a D.C.-based antiabortion activist, prayed alongside the high court’s barricade for the leaked draft to be true. Mahoney said he had been waiting for this moment for decades. He has stood outside the Supreme Court countless times and joined in the chants of other antiabortion demonstrators to call for the overturning of Roe. He listened again to the antiabortion demonstrators yelling, “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!”

“I’ve chanted this tens of thousands of times over the past 49 years, been out in massive heat and frigid cold,” he said. “So it was really, really exciting.”

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Across the street, about 40 eighth-graders from Children’s Day School in San Francisco handed out pamphlets titled “What Is at Stake if Roe v. Wade is Overturned by the Supreme Court?”

Students from the school come to D.C. every year to present an annually planned service project. This year’s happened to be about abortion rights. The Children’s Day eighth-graders arrived Monday and woke up to the news Tuesday.

“We didn’t expect this to happen,” said Chris Wachsmith, the middle school program director. “All year we’ve been talking about how this might be the fight we’re in but did not at all expect to be watching this today.”

Wachsmith said it was a great opportunity to show the students that others who are similar to them have differing opinions. “We’re trying to encourage them to have civic engagement,” he said.

The demonstrations began Monday night within hours after the news of the leaked draft opinion. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court, many of them expressing shock and dismay. A few lit candles.

As the night wore on, the scene got tense, with about a dozen antiabortion protesters chanting, “Pro-choice, that’s a lie! Babies never choose to die!” and a larger group of abortion rights supporters calling out, “When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “Abortion is health care!”

Hundreds gathered outside the Supreme Court on May 2 following the news about a leaked draft opinion indicating that a majority of the court is prepared to overturn the right to abortion. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Just after 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, some of the protesters scuffled briefly and a number of masked protesters tried to force antiabortion demonstrators to move away from the front of the court building. Neither group budged, but the screaming and yelling continued. One antiabortion activist had a sign taken. Some organizers wearing yellow vests tried to keep the peace.

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Shelby Davis-Cooper, 29, a fourth-year medical student at Georgetown University, shelved studying for her board exams to join the swelling crowd in her light-blue scrubs just after 10:30 p.m. Davis-Cooper, who is pursuing an OB/GYN residency, said growing up with a single mother who raised two children on a waitress’s salary shaped her convictions about access to reproductive care.

“Ultimately this a matter of human rights, and human rights should not be debated on a state-by-state basis,” she said.

Emily Davies, Katy Burnell Evans, Nicole Asbury and Karina Elwood in Washington, Jack Wright in New York City and Richard Webner in Austin contributed to this report.