WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Thousands of abortion rights supporters rallied across the United States on Saturday to express their anger over fears the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The demonstrations to start what organizers said would be “a summer of rage” are in response to the May 2 leak of a draft opinion showing the court’s conservative majority ready to reverse the 1973 landmark decision that established a federal constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
There were large gatherings in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago with some smaller counter-protests. Near the base of the Washington Monument at the National Mall, some protesters waved placards with messages including “How dare they,” “We are the majority,” and “Fight Back. Protect Choice.”
The court’s final ruling, which could give states the power to ban abortion, is expected in June. About half of U.S. states could ban or severely restrict abortion soon after a ruling vacating Roe.
The mood was energetic in downtown Brooklyn as thousands of abortion rights supporters crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
Elizabeth Holtzman, an 80-year-old marcher who represented New York in Congress from 1973-1981, said that the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion “treats women as objects, as less than full human beings.”
Malcolm DeCesare, a 34-year-old intensive care unit nurse who attended a rally outside Los Angeles City Hall, said ending the right to a legal abortion could put lives at risk as women seek unsafe alternatives.
The actions overall appeared peaceful although at least one counter-protester was escorted away by a security guard in Washington.
Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion advocacy group with campus chapters across the country, said it was holding counter protests on Saturday in nine cities, including Washington.
At an abortion rights protest in Atlanta, more than 400 people had assembled in a small park in front of the state capitol with about a dozen counter-protesters on a nearby sidewalk.
Holding a sign that read, “Stop Child Sacrifice,” 23-year-old Bria Marshall, a recent public health graduate from Kennesaw State University, acknowledged her group’s smaller turnout.
“Jesus had just a small group, but his message was more powerful,” said Marshall, a member of an evangelical church. “I’m hoping to plant some seeds in their hearts to change minds.”
Planned Parenthood, Women’s March and other abortion rights groups organized more than 400 “Bans Off Our Bodies” protests for Saturday with the Washington march to end at the Supreme Court, the focus of liberal outrage over the past two weeks.
Activists said these would be the first of many coordinated protests around the Supreme Court’s decision.
“For the women of this country, this will be a summer of rage,” said Rachel Carmona, president of Women’s March. “We will be ungovernable until this government starts working for us, until the attacks on our bodies let up, until the right to an abortion is codified into law.”
Several thousand abortion rights backers amassed in a Chicago park, including U.S. Representative Sean Casten and his 15-year-old daughter, Audrey.
Casten, whose district includes Chicago’s western suburbs, told Reuters it was a “horrible” that the conservative Supreme Court would consider taking away the right to an abortion and “condemn women to this lesser status.”
Democrats, who currently hold the White House and both chambers of Congress, hope that backlash to the Supreme Court decision will carry their party’s candidates to victory in congressional elections in November.
But voters will be weighing abortion rights against other issues such as the soaring prices of food and gas, and they may be skeptical of Democrats’ ability to protect abortion access after efforts to pass legislation that would enshrine abortion rights in federal law failed.
“I can understand people not liking the idea of abortions, but it should still be available,” said Brita Van Rossum, a 62-year-old landscape designer who traveled to Washington from Philadelphia to demonstrate.
In the past week, protesters have gathered outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the leaked opinion.
Justice Clarence Thomas said at a conference in Dallas on Friday that trust within the court was “gone forever” following the leak.
“When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally,” the conservative justice said.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Additional reporting by Eric Cox in Chicago, Maria Caspani in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Ted Hesson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Osterman, Mark Porter and Grant McCool