Lisa Branscomb marched on Saturday outside the Supreme Court among scores of abortion rights protesters and tried to hold back her tears.
“I’m not the only one,” said Branscomb, 52 of Capitol Hill, who had an abortion when she was 22. “I never talk about it but it’s important right now.”
Branscomb was among thousands who gathered in Washington and at hundreds of events across the country on Saturday to rally for abortion rights.
The demonstrations come as a direct response to the leaked draft of an opinion by the Supreme Court signaling that it is positioned to overturn Roe. v. Wade, the 49-year-old decision that guaranteed a person’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
National tensions around abortion have ratcheted up since the leak this month. Abortion rights supporters and antiabortion advocates — sensing the arrival of a historic moment that could reshape American social and political life — have accelerated their efforts, with demonstrations by those on both sides of the issue planned for the weekend.
The liberal groups that organized Saturday’s protests designed the events as a resounding message to leaders that the majority of Americans support upholding Roe. In Washington, women and men of all ages gathered on the National Mall.
They voiced anger over the wave of abortion bans and restrictions taking hold in states across the country. They held signs with drawings of uteri and images of coat hangers, to symbolize the dangerous measures people resorted to to terminate pregnancies before Roe.
Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, 39, of Mount Rainier, Md., walked through the crowd of thousands on the Mall. The white poster board with sparkly gold that she carried shared her story: “I had a baby & I had an abortion.”
She was 19 when she had her abortion, she said. She told her mother, who had previously told her about her own “frightening” pre-Roe abortion, but it took years for Van Kampen Saravia to open up about her experience to others.
“My abortion was a deeply personal decision for me, and the thought of the government controlling that made me want to change laws,” said Van Kampen Saravia, a senior legal and policy adviser at Ipas, an international reproductive justice organization. “The thought of my daughter having less protection than I did growing up absolutely breaks my heart. And it terrifies me.”
A sign resting on her eight-month-old daughter’s stroller read: “My mommy had an abortion. It is just HEALTH CARE.”
On the lawn outside the Washington monument, Katherine Moffitt, 72, embraced a fellow demonstrator. The two had met only a few minutes before but immediately had bonded over having an abortion in the early 1970s, before the Roe decision.
Both came to the District, they said, because they remembered what life without access to legal abortions was like.
In 1973, Moffitt said, she drove from her home state of Rhode Island to Massachusetts to get an abortion. She had just graduated from college. Getting an abortion, she said, changed her life: She was able to go to graduate school and start a family when she was ready, she said. She drove in from Princeton, N.J., because she wanted to advocate for her two granddaughters.
“Their future should not be with fewer rights than my life,” Moffitt said, tearing up.
The other woman, Melanie, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because of privacy concerns, said she got an abortion in 1971. She drove from Michigan to New York City at the time. A nurse held her hand during the procedure.
When she heard Moffitt’s abortion story, she said, she was struck by how similar their backgrounds and stories were. “I’m just feeling grateful that I’m not alone in my absolute horror of what’s going down in our country for women, and I’m grateful to know that my sisters are out there doing what they can,” Melanie said.
Randy Shreve and Lauri Adams, both 60, drove from Cumberland, Md. Husband and wife stuck their signs into the ground.
Lauri’s read: “Only over my dead body will the gov control my g-daughter’s!”
Randy’s sign read as a reply: “I’m mad. She’s madder. Stop the madness. I have to live with her.”
They said they were there to advocate for their two daughters, son, and two grandchildren. If Roe is reversed, “it could send us back 50 years,” Randy said.
Nearby, music started blaring on the stage, and a roster of speakers began. In the early afternoon, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) took the stage and told the crowd about getting an abortion as a teenager. It wasn’t legal at the time, she said, and she knew the risk she was taking in “the dark days” before Roe.
“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,” Lee said.
The Senate failed to advance legislation Wednesday that would codify a constitutional right to abortion in federal law, after all 50 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) opposed moving ahead on the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said the organizers of Saturday’s events are planning for many more demonstrations this summer to continue to pressure lawmakers.
“We have to see an end to the attacks on our bodies,” Carmona said. “You can expect for women to be completely ungovernable until this government starts to work for us.”
Halfway across the country, several hundred people gathered Saturday morning in downtown San Antonio. Many in the crowd said they had attended abortion rights rallies in recent months to protest a restrictive Texas law, which went into effect in September and bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
“Most people don’t even know they’re pregnant until after six weeks,” said Evelyn Tamez, 26, who had come to the protest with her sister, Valeria Tamez, 21. “It puts a restriction on women of color especially.”
The sisters are from Laredo, Tex., on the southern border, where they said they know multiple people who have crossed into Mexico to buy abortion pills at pharmacies without consulting with a provider.
“It’s dangerous,” Evelyn Tamez said. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, she added, “it’s not going to stop abortions. It’s just going to stop safe abortions.”
The crowd swelled to more than 1,000. Some of the protesters snapped pictures, remarking on the size of the protest. “I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Natalie Butrico, 22, who lives in San Antonio.
Many of the signs addressed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who signed the Texas bill into law. One woman wore a T-shirt with a Texas map that read “Gilead,” a reference to the patriarchal dystopia from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Veronika Granado, 22, said she’d had an abortion herself, and urged people to focus on the rights that have already been restricted in Texas.
“We are already living in a post-Roe reality,” Granado said.
Jessica Cisneros, who is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), the only antiabortion Democrat in the House, in the 28th District’s Democratic primary, was also in the crowd. On Saturday, she stood at the front of the march, holding a sign that read “Vote out anti choice politicians.”
Aria Floyd, 20, said she came in part to support Cisneros.
While she initially felt helpless after learning that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, she said, she quickly turned her attention to the ballot box.
“I’m going to be voting,” she said.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hundreds of abortion rights supporters lined several blocks in front of the federal courthouse, drawing continual honks of support from motorists.
The boisterous demonstrators chanted “Abortion is health care!” while carrying homemade signs such as “No Church Rule in USA” and “Women are not Government Property.”
Standing under Florida’s blazing midday sun, many of the demonstrators said they viewed Saturday’s protest as just the start of a long battle to protect access to abortion in the state. Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill banning abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, and many of the demonstrators said they will now mobilize to try to defeat his reelection bid in November.
As she pointed to motorists cheering on the demonstrators, Cindy Ciarcia said the turnout for the abortion rights protest reminded her of the South Florida Women’s March in January 2017 opposing then-President Donald Trump.
But “this has way more people just driving by and getting involved, and the Women’s March was not like that,” said Ciarcia, 66. “And we are just getting started, so I feel like, for once, we are really going to make a difference.”
Bett Willett, 81, said her decision to remain at the protest despite heat-related health risks signaled just how angry she was about the looming Supreme Court decision.
“I am 81 years old, and I have a daughter and granddaughters, and that is why I am here,” said Willett, a resident of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Asked whether she thinks abortion will remain legal in Florida if Roe is overturned, Willett said she won’t be able to answer until after the November elections.
“This is just going to grow,” Willett said, as the sounds of chanting and car horns ricocheted off the federal courthouse building. “All of these people know other people. This is not a small gathering for Fort Lauderdale, and the anger here is off the wall.”
Back in Washington, the marchers made their way to the Supreme Court. Chants of “Keep your theology off my biology!” echoed in the streets before the crowd began to disperse. A group of 50 antiabortion counterprotesters demonstrated near the Supreme Court, but police kept the groups apart.
Caroline Kitchener in San Antonio, and Tim Craig in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.