Tears and tension as protesters swarm outside US supreme court

Outside the US supreme court the morning after a bombshell leak revealed justices are poised to overturn Roe v Wade, the day began with dozens of protesters. By the afternoon, thousands had arrived to make their voices heard – with many on opposite sides of America’s abortion debate.

The possibility of a repeal of the landmark 1973 decision brought energized and sometimes emotional supporters of Roe to protests in major cities from New York to San Francisco. But the supreme court was ground zero.

Members of the US Capitol police closed the street in front of the supreme court building as protesters filled and took over the area, holding signs and large banners.

It was a tense atmosphere that brought anti-abortion and pro-choice protesters into close range, outside the building where nine of the most powerful individuals in the US decide the nation’s future.

“I’m here because I was here in 2016 and couldn’t fucking believe that I had to tell people that women are people – but clearly we do,” said Cindy from Great Falls, Virginia, who asked that her last name be withheld. While she didn’t expect to change the court’s mind, she said, “it’s really nice to see a bunch of like minded people and get the vibe and I’m pissed – that’s why I’m here – I’m pissed”.

Additional security measures were taken as anti-abortion and abortion rights demonstrators staged a protest outside the US supreme court.
Additional security measures were taken as anti-abortion and pro-choice rights demonstrators staged a protest outside the US supreme court. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“I hope that this will motivate people to vote because I think that’s the only thing that’s gonna help,” she added.

As the number of protesters built steadily throughout the morning, Democratic senators gathered nearby on the Senate steps for a press conference.

“This is a five alarm fire,” said Senator Patty Murray, as demonstrators’ chants rang out across the grassy lawn separating the capitol from the supreme court.

While Democrats are already discussing legislation to codify abortion into the law, those on the anti-abortion side of the debate were relieved to hear Roe could be overturned, and often cited religious concerns.

A young Black woman, who asked to be quoted anonymously for privacy reasons, said she came from the suburbs near the nation’s Capitol and that she opposed abortion.

“I’m realizing that if people don’t stand for people who can’t stand up for themselves, then we’re not really American. I’m here not representing any political party or any side or left or right or whatever. I’m here to just stand for Jesus and that we are made in the image of God,” she said, standing on the sidewalk outside the supreme court and holding a handmade sign. “I did the Black Lives Matter protest because I believe in the sanctity of life and I have to keep that same energy. If you believe in life, it’s sacred at all times. George Floyd mattered in his mother’s womb and he mattered the day he was executed.”

Alan Cohen, who said he lived in the local area, echoed similar religious concerns. “What brings me out here is obedience to Jesus Christ. I’m a Christian, and God commands us to go and make disciples of all the nations, including the United States,” Cohen said.

A demonstrator in New York City, one of many nationwide protests on Tuesday.
A demonstrator in New York City, one of many nationwide protests on Tuesday. Photograph: Gina M Randazzo/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

“So in big events like this, especially ones that are very emotionally charged, our calling is to proclaim the Gospel, whether or not the crowd is popular with it or not. That’s our obedience and call as Christians,” he added.

While the supreme court’s decision is not yet final, the leak of the draft is set to further enflame political division ahead of the midterm elections.

“Our country is experiencing a full partisan assault on women’s rights and freedom to control our own bodies,” said Melanie Campbell, convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, which often polls a vital voting block for Democrats. “As Black women, we stand at the intersection of voting rights and reproductive justice, with the full understanding that the struggle for our right to vote is inextricably tied to our reproductive rights as women.”

The midterms will decide the fate of who controls the US Congress and will be held in November. If the supreme court overturns Roe, impact at the ballot box is widely predicted.

Senator Bernie Sanders, standing inside the US Capitol, described it as a make or break moment for the Democratic party. “What the Democrats have to do is rally the American people around something the American people feel strongly about. There is very strong majority support that a woman has the right to control their own bodies and that Roe v. Wade should not be repealed.”