emotional crowd | 

Protests erupt as US Supreme Court overturns abortion rights decision

Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrate outside the US Supreme Court after it overturned the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision in Washington, US. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Ellie Silverman, Rachel Weiner, Lizzie Johnson, Peter Hermann and Peter Jamison in Washington© Washington Post

An emotional crowd gathered outside the US Supreme Court yesterday to alternately celebrate and revile the historic overturning of the Roe v Wade abortion rights ruling.

Tensions mounted between demonstrators as they absorbed the news that the court had struck down the 50-year-old decision guaranteeing the constitutional right to an abortion.

Dozens of police officers were present as the crowd swelled to a few hundred and began to group itself into duelling factions.

The scene, in the wake of the court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was a remarkable split screen that captured Americans’ wildly divergent reactions to a watershed moment in one of the nation’s bitterest debates.

Supporters of abortion rights voiced despair and outrage – one held a defiant sign: “I will aid and abet abortion” – while anti-abortion activists were overwhelmed with emotion at a legal victory that had been decades in the making.

“I can’t believe it’s real,” said Lauren Marlowe (22), an anti-abortion demonstrator who shrieked and embraced her friends when the decision came down. “I just want to hug everyone. We’re in a post-Roe America now.”

Tanya Matthews, a 26-year-old master’s student in anthropology from South Carolina, was on her way to the Library of Congress, on the next block from the Supreme Court building, when she heard about the decision, and headed to the Supreme Court.

Matthews, who said she had an abortion at 19 and supports abortion rights, was dismayed by the celebratory crowd of anti-abortion activists, many of whom were young women.

“It feels like we’re at a Justin Bieber concert,” Matthews said. “They don’t understand the gravity of this decision.

"Just because it’s not legal doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.”

She interrupted antiabortion activist AJ Hurley as he explained why he had come to Washington from Los Angeles.

“What about rapists?” Ms Matthews asked, referring to abortion exceptions.

“I think rapists should be executed, but you don’t execute the child for the crimes of the father,” Mr Hurley (38) replied.

Ms Matthews asked how he could be for the death penalty and call himself “pro-life”.

“I hate rapists more than you do,” he said. “I have a degree in biology. You don’t have a degree.”

“You don’t know my degree,” Ms Matthews shot back.

By midday, such confrontations had not escalated into violence, authorities said.

Police officers observed a scene in which equally impassioned crowds chanted but did not confront each other en masse.

Shortly before noon, NY Democrat Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared at the rally and delivered a speech through a borrowed megaphone to abortion rights supporters.

“This is not going to be instant gratification,” she said, promising a long fight to rebuild the rights the court revoked yesterday. She left amid an escort of police officers, who protected her from anti-abortion activists who swarmed and screamed at her.

Dustin Sternbeck, a Washington, DC police spokesman, said the full department had been activated, meaning all officers were standing by to be deployed as necessary to the demonstrations.

A few miles south, traffic on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River was shut down late yesterday morning after Washington, DC police said a demonstrator climbed to the top of a 70-foot-tall archway.

Police said the demonstrator displayed a flag or a banner reading: “Don’t tread on my uterus.” Authorities halted traffic on the bridge as they tried to coax the person down.

Caroline Flermoen and Kate Spaulding, both 17, had just begun their walking tour of Capitol Hill, adjacent to the Supreme Court building, yesterday morning when they heard chanting and the strains of music. They immediately knew what the noise meant.

The girls – from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Boston, respectively – are rising high school seniors and were in Washington for an educational summer programme. Their guide had mentioned that a decision on Roe might come during their tour, but to hear it, the girls said, was surreal.

“Bye bye reproductive rights,” Caroline texted her mother at 10.14am.

They joined a couple hundred people out in front of the Supreme Court.

When someone offered them bright green stickers reading “Overturn Roe? Hell no!” with an illustration of a crossed-out coat hanger, they accepted.

Stephanie Gross, a 21-year-old college senior dancing to rap music blasted from a stereo being pulled in a wagon, would also remember the day.

She believed the court’s decision paved the way for a better future, she said.

There were bubbles in the air, and spilled champagne coating her friends’ arms.

“When I have kids someday, I can say that I was there when it happened,” Ms Gross said. “Can you believe it?”

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