Hundreds of abortion rights supporters rallied for nearly two hours outside the supreme court on Tuesday, applauding fiery speeches from senators, members of Congress, activists and six presidential candidates who made clear the issue is likely take centre stage in the 2020 election.
Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell, all competing in the Democratic primary, described the anti-abortion drive as an attack on human rights and attempted by Trump-emboldened Republicans to turn back the clock. Another candidate, Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was also in attendance but did not make remarks.
The mood among the crowd in bright sunshine was defiant, energetic and hopeful. Protesters waved signs saying “We won’t be punished” and “Protect Safe, Legal Abortion”. A small counter-demonstration also took place.
“We are not going to allow them to move our country backward,” Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota, told the crowd through a megaphone. “You know who’s with us? The American people are with us.”
Gillibrand, senator from New York, said Trump is turning women into “second class citizens” in America. “This is the beginning of President Trump’s war on women. If he wants this war, he will have it and he will lose.”
Booker, senator from New Jersey, said: “We must wake up more men to join this fight and it’s not because we have mothers and wives and daughters. But because this is an assault on human dignity, on freedom.”
Warning of the danger of apathy, Booker added that current generation cannot rest on the laurels of what previous generations achieved for civil rights. “This is a day in America when we must understand there can be no neutrality… Today is a day in our land when we see people trying to take us backwards, but we must go forwards.”
Ryan, Congressman from Ohio, acknowledged that he used to be “pro-life” but, having worked with politicians and advocacy groups, and heard the stories of women, he had changed his position. “I find it insulting that some white male legislator is going to accuse women of infanticide and not caring about these kids.”
Several speakers argued that Congress must take action to codify Roe v Wade into law. Leaders of NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood also addressed the gathering.
One of the most powerful speeches of the day came from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. “I am outraged because this is outrageous,” she said. “This nation was built on the backs and grown in the wombs of women and our rights are not up for debate.”
Among those in attendance outside the supreme court was Kathy Kleeman, 66, from South Brunswick, New Jersey. She said: “For all women in this country, it’s essential we protect these rights. I remember before Roe v Wade and it wasn’t good: it was very spotty and dangerous for a lot of women, and we mustn’t go back to that.”
She added: “Right wingers are in the ascendent. I don’t believe Donald Trump cares about the issue one way or another, but this is red meat for his supporters.”