Abortion rights supporters have staged hundreds of marches and rallies across the US to express outrage that the Supreme Court appears prepared to scrap the constitutional right to termination.
Incensed after a leaked draft opinion suggested the court’s conservative majority will overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that has made abortion legal for nearly half a century, activists spoke of the need to mobilise quickly because Republican-led states are poised to enact tighter restrictions.
In the nation’s capital, thousands gathered in drizzly weather at the Washington Monument on Saturday to listen to fiery speeches before marching to the Supreme Court, which was surrounded by two layers of security fences.
The mood was one of anger and defiance, three days after the Senate failed to muster enough votes to enshrine Roe v Wade as federal law.
Samantha Rivers, a 64-year-old federal government employee who is preparing for a state-by-state battle over abortion rights, said: “I can’t believe that at my age, I’m still having to protest over this.”
Caitlin Loehr, 34, of Washington, wore a black T-shirt with an image of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “dissent” collar on it and a necklace that spelled out “vote”.
She said: “I think that women should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and their lives. And I don’t think banning abortion will stop abortion. It just makes it unsafe and can cost a woman her life.”
From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, and Nashville, Tennessee, to Lubbock, Texas, tens of thousands participated in events, where chants of “Bans off our bodies” and “My body, my choice” rang out.
The gatherings were largely peaceful, but in some cities there were tense confrontations between people on opposing sides of the issue.
Polls show most Americans want to preserve access to abortion – at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy – but the Supreme Court appears to be poised to let states have the final say.
If that happens, roughly half of states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are expected to quickly ban abortion.
The battle was personal for some who came out on Saturday.
Teisha Kimmons, who travelled 80 miles to attend the Chicago rally, said she fears for women in states that are ready to ban abortion.
She said she might not be alive today if she had not had a legal abortion when she was 15.
“I was already starting to self-harm and I would have rather died than have a baby,” she said.
At the same rally, speaker after speaker said that if abortion is banned, the rights of immigrants, minorities and others will also be “gutted”.
Amy Eshleman, wife of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, told the crowd of thousands: “This has never been just about abortion. It’s about control.
“My marriage is on the menu and we cannot and will not let that happen.”
In New York, thousands of people gathered in Brooklyn’s courthouse plaza before a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan for another rally.
“We’re here for the women who can’t be here, and for the girls who are too young to know what is ahead for them,” Angela Hamlet, 60, of Manhattan, said.
Robin Seidon, who travelled from Montclair, New Jersey, for the rally, said the nation is at a place abortion rights supporters have long feared.
“They’ve been nibbling at the edges, and it was always a matter of time before they thought they had enough power on the Supreme Court, which they have now,” Ms Seidon, 65, said.
At many of the rallies, speakers put the issue in stark terms, saying people will die if abortions are outlawed.
In Los Angeles, high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred recounted how she could not get a legal abortion after being raped at gunpoint in the 1960s. She said she ended up having life-threatening bleeding after a “back alley” abortion.
“I want you to vote as though your lives depend on it, because they do,” she told the crowd, looking ahead to the upcoming midterm elections.