Thousands have taken to the streets in the US in support of a national day of action for safe and legal access to abortion.
The nationwide demonstrations on Saturday are a response to a leaked draft legal opinion showing the US Supreme Court’s conservative majority is considering overturning Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that guarantees abortion access nationwide.
“We’re done with attacks on abortion. We’re marching TODAY to make our voices loud and clear,” read a tweet from the Women’s March, one of the groups behind Saturday’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” protests.
Protesters gathered in New York, Washington-DC, Los Angeles, Austin and Chicago, as well as at hundreds of smaller events across the country. All in all, more than 380 events are scheduled from Maine to Hawaii, organisers said.
“This Saturday, our elected leaders hear us, Supreme Court justices hear us, companies who’ve funded anti-abortion interests hear us,” Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at the advocacy organisation UltraViolet, said in a statement.
“We will be prepared to meet the moment, whether that’s rallying in the streets, petitioning state officials – whatever it takes,” she said.
A march in New York began at noon local time in Brooklyn with plans to march across the bridge to Manhattan’s Foley Square, while thousands more people were scheduled to demonstrate in Washington, DC and descend on the Supreme Court building.
The leak of the draft opinion has ignited fury about the potential rollback of abortion rights in the US before November’s key midterm elections, when control of both congressional chambers are at stake.
Democrats have pushed to codify abortion rights into federal law in a bid to pin down Republicans on the deeply divisive issue ahead of the crucial elections.
The House-passed Women’s Health Protection Act would assure healthcare professionals have the right to provide abortions and that patients have the right to receive them. But Republicans and one Democrat in the US Senate scuttled the effort to advance the measure earlier this week.
Teisha Kimmons, who travelled 80 miles (128km) to attend a rally in Chicago, said she feared for women in states that are ready to ban abortion. Kimmons 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,” said Kimmons, a massage therapist from Rockford, Illinois.
‘We all lose’
The draft opinion does not square with American opinion at large: a new Politico/Morning Consult poll has 53 percent of voters saying Roe v Wade should not be overturned, up three percentage points since last week, while 58 percent said it was important to vote for a candidate who supports abortion access.
Republican-controlled states already have taken steps to restrict abortion rights in recent months, and overturning Roe v Wade would grant them far greater latitude to restrict or ban the procedure.
“We ALL lose if Roe is overturned,” tweeted Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March.
“Even those in small conservative towns like mine in Texas who are grateful for the abortion their wife had during a pregnancy that put her health at risk, or afraid of the one their granddaughter may be unable to access if she were raped,” she wrote.
She had earlier tweeted, “If you’re angry like me, join us on the streets this Saturday.”
The right to access abortion has long triggered activism, but the Supreme Court leak has spurred an uptick in demonstrations, including outside the homes of justices.
The largely peaceful protests have drawn Republican criticism about violations of the privacy rights of court members, but activists have responded by pointing to years of often violent protests outside abortion clinics and at the homes of doctors providing the medical procedure.
And many have cited the pending Supreme Court decision as a far greater invasion of privacy.
“You don’t get to take away my bodily autonomy and get to enjoy your Saturday at home. You can do one or the other,” one protester, Nikki Enfield, told a local CBS television affiliate.