MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Like many streets in America on Saturday, Beale Street saw protesters march in response to the notion that Supreme Court could overturn Roe V. Wade—a legal precedent that has stood for nearly half a century.
The leaked draft opinion that suggested the court's conservative majority would overturn the landmark ruling caused activists to speak of the need to mobilize quickly as Republican-led states are poised to enact tighter restrictions.
Teisha Kimmons, who traveled 80 miles to attend the Chicago rally, said she fears for women in states that are ready to ban abortion. She 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.
At that rally, speaker after speaker said 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."
In Los Angeles, high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred recounted how she could not get a legal abortion after being raped at gunpoint in the 1960s. She said she ended up having life-threatening bleeding after a “back alley” abortion.
“I want you to vote as though your lives depend on it, because they do,” she told the crowd.
From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and beyond, tens of thousands participated in events, where chants of “Bans off our bodies!” and “My body, my choice!” rang out. The gatherings were largely peaceful, but in some cities there were tense confrontations between people on opposing sides of the issue.
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 that happens, roughly half of states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are expected to quickly ban abortion.
The battle was personal for some who came out Saturday. In Seattle, some protesters carried photographic images of conservative justices' heads on sticks.
In New York, thousands of people gathered in Brooklyn’s courthouse plaza before a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan for another rally.
“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, who traveled from Montclair, New Jersey, for the rally, said the nation was at a place abortion rights supporters have 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.
The upcoming high court ruling in a case from Mississippi stands to energize voters, potentially shaping the upcoming midterm elections.
Back in Chicago, Kjirsten Nyquist, a nurse toting daughters ages 1 and 3, agreed about the need to vote. “As much as federal elections, voting in every small election matters just as much,” she said.
At many of the rallies, speakers put the issue in stark terms, saying people will die if abortions are outlawed.