Roe v Wade: Elation and despair outside US Supreme Court

By Tara McKelvey & Angelica Casas & Barbara Plett Usher
BBC News, Washington & Texas

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Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrate outside the United States Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2022.Image source, Reuters

The street in front of the Supreme Court crackled with energy. Conservative women sobbed with joy at the decision taken inside the building to overturn the 50-year-old Roe v Wade case that entitled pregnant women to an abortion during the first three months of their pregnancy.

Some, elated over their victory, showed a genuine warmth to those in the crowd angry over the court's decision.

"Can I shake your hand?" asked Andrea Perez, 30, of Fullerton, California, pleased with the court's decision, to someone who was clearly not. "No, I'm sorry," said the progressive activist as she stepped back. "Actually I'm not sorry."

Friday's ruling is expected to cut off abortion access for about 36 million women of reproductive age, according to research from Planned Parenthood, a healthcare organisation that provides abortions. Protests have been planned in at least 52 cities across the US in response to the court ruling today.

While abortion is a hugely divisive issue in the US, a recent Pew survey found that 61% of adults say abortion should be legal all or most of the time, while 37% say it should be illegal all or most of the time.

As the announcement was made, Macy Petty, 20, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, burst into sobs.

"I've been praying for these Supreme Court justices to do the right action," she said. Her friends gathered around and they hugged and cheered the decision. A few feet away, Lauren Marlowe of Students for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy organisation, live-streamed her joy, cheering states like Arkansas that have taken steps towards restricting abortion rights, exclaiming, "You go, guys!"

Meanwhile others, disappointed with the decision, swore at her as they walked past. "It's going to get violent," said Ms Marlowe. "We're ready." As she walked away into the crowd, the song Another One Bites the Dust played on loudspeakers.

Image caption,
Andrea Perez (right), 30, of California, thrilled with the decision, tried to speak to progressive activists.

Libby Kernahan, 25, was wearing a "Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights" T-shirt outside the court. She had shown up to represent the number of people who are opposed to the decision of the court, she said.

"I knew this was coming ever since the Republicans were organising the court. It was very obvious what their end goal was. And now - well, who knows what's next?"

Ms Kernahan's sister had to have an abortion because of a foetal abnormality. "These are medical decisions," she said. "This isn't for the Supreme Court to get their nose into."

She said she has been appalled by the Supreme Court's conservative tilt and decisions such as the one announced today. When asked to describe an emoji that reflected her feelings at the moment, she paused and looked off to the distance. "I don't know if there's a screaming emoji," she said. "Something that shows anger."

Hundreds of miles away, in San Antonio, Texas, Tere Haring had been waiting for this moment for more than 50 years.

Outside the crisis pregnancy centre she runs on the outskirts of the city, the street was quiet.

But inside, she was trying to figure out a security plan in case protests targeted her organisation that helps expecting mothers with clothes, diapers, cribs and financial assistance to help convince them against getting an abortion.

"I'm happy," she told her staff this morning when she walked in to the office, shortly after the decision was published.

Image caption,
Tere Haring had been waiting for this moment for more than 50 years.

Ms Haring opened the Allied Women's Center in the 1990s, but she's been an anti-abortion advocate most of her life, her conviction heavily founded on her faith.

"Every human life needs to be protected," Ms Haring said, as she watched President Joe Biden describe the court's decision as a "tragic error".

"It represents that we acknowledge the humanity of the unborn," she said.

In Texas, which already has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, the procedure is expected to be completely banned in 30 days because of a so-called "trigger law".

"I'm glad I live in Texas where the decision is pretty much to ban abortion," she said, adding that the court's decision does not change her mission. "I'm still going to be helping women choose life and make it easier for them to help their child."

That afternoon, a mother walked into the centre with her 16-year-old daughter, perhaps unaware that it had an anti-abortion mission.

Beth, who declined giving her last name for reasons of privacy, was distraught for two reasons - the possibility of her teenage daughter being pregnant and the likelihood of her not having access to an abortion, if she desired one.

Media caption,

Watch: Supreme Court abortion decision must not be the final word - Biden

Just that morning, her daughter had told her she was no longer a virgin and suspected she could be pregnant. They walked in to this crisis pregnancy centre after seeing the "free pregnancy test" sign outside.

"For 50 years we were able to say what we wanted to do with our bodies and if we wanted to have a baby or not," Beth said, her voice cracking. "It's scary to know my daughter might not have that option."

Back in Washington DC, the pro-choice protesters clustered in front of the Supreme Court were angry, determined and fearful. "If you want an abortion, get a vasectomy," read one of their signs.

Lorilee Seuss, a middle-aged woman from Iowa, said she had an abortion when she was younger. It was really hard, she said, but she didn't regret it. She began tearing up as she described feeling sad and worried for young women.

Sadie Coons stood listening nearby in fierce silence, so enraged she could hardly speak. She was holding a sign that read: "What other rights will they take away?".

"Look at them," she said, pointing with an expletive to the anti-abortion rights activists nearby. "They're celebrating. People are in pain, people are going to die. It's natural to be upset especially if people are revelling in your pain."

Ms Coons said she would keep fighting, and protest outside the homes of the justices of the "illegitimate corrupt Supreme Court" because "we are taking baby steps into fascism".