WASHINGTON — Supporters of abortion rights took to the streets across America on Saturday to make clear their anger at the prospect that the Supreme Court will soon strike down the constitutional right to abortion. Cries of “My body, my choice” rang out as activists committed to fighting for what they called reproductive freedom.
After a draft opinion leaked by the court suggested that the majority of conservatives would vote against the Roe v. Wade decision, activists rallied in protest and mobilized for change as Republican-led states were poised to impose tighter restrictions.
In the nation’s capital, thousands gathered in drizzly weather at the Washington Monument to listen to fiery speeches before marching to the Supreme Court, which is now surrounded by two layers of security fences.
It was a mood of defiance and anger.
“I can’t believe that at my age, I’m still having to protest over this,” said Samantha Rivers, a 64-year-old federal government employee who is preparing for a state-by-state battle over abortion rights.
Caitlin Loehr, 34, of Washington, wore a black T-shirt with an image of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “dissent” collar on it and a necklace that spelled out “vote.”
“I think that women should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and their lives. And I don’t think banning abortion will stop abortion. It just makes it unsafe and can cost a woman her life,” Loehr said.
A half-dozen anti-abortion demonstrators sent out a countering message, with Jonathan Darnel shouting into a microphone, “Abortion is not health care, folks, because pregnancy is not an illness.”
From Pittsburgh to Pasadena, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, to Lubbock, Texas, tens of thousands participated in “Bans off our Bodies” events. The organizers expected the most popular event to take place in Chicago or Los Angeles.
“If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” Rachel Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said before the march.
Polls show that most Americans want to preserve access to abortion — at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy — but the Supreme Court appeared to be poised to let the states have the final say. If this happens, about half the states — mainly in the South and Midwest — will ban abortion.
Some protesters were involved in the battle.
Teisha Kimmons traveled over 80 miles for the Chicago rally. She expressed concern about women living in states where abortion is banned. If she didn’t have a legal abortion as a teenager, she said that she may not be here today.
“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.
At that rally, speaker after speaker told the crowd that if abortion is banned that the rights of immigrants, minorities and others will also be “gutted,” as Amy Eshleman, wife of Chicago Mayor Lori lightfoot put it.
“This has never been just about abortion. It’s about control,” Eshleman told the crowd of thousands. “My marriage is on the menu and we cannot and will not let that happen,” she added.
In New York, thousands of people gathered in Brooklyn’s courthouse plaza before a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan where another rally was planned.
“We’re here for the women who can’t be here, and for the girls who are too young to know what is ahead for them,” Angela Hamlet, 60, of Manhattan, said to the backdrop of booming music.
Robin Seidon traveled from Montclair (New Jersey) to attend the rally. He said that the country was an area abortion rights supporters had long feared.
“They’ve been nibbling at the edges, and it was always a matter of time before they thought they had enough power on the Supreme court, which they have now,” said Seidon, 65.
A Mississippi case is expected to be decided by the high court in the near future. This could energize voters and help shape the next midterm elections.
Texas is home to a stringent law that prohibits many abortions. In Texas the challenger of one the few remaining anti-abortion Democrats marched in San Antonio.
Jessica Cisneros joined protestors just days before early voter registration begins for her primary race against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. This race may be one of first checks to see if the court leak will mobilize voters.
Kjirsten Nyquist of Chicago was a mother to two young daughters, aged 1 and 3. She agreed that voting is important. “As much as federal elections, voting in every small election matters just as much,” she said.
Saturday’s rallies come three days after the Senate failed to muster enough votes to codify Roe v. Wade. Sponsors included the Women’s March, Move On, Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet, MoveOn, SEIU and other organizations.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME