Supreme Court’s historic abortion rights reversal draws protests nationwide
A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, early Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. | Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON—From Appleton, Wisc., to Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of people Tuesday crowded streets, parks, and courtroom plazas from coast to coast to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s planned abortion ban.

The AFL-CIO constituency group for women, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, joined the chorus in a statement while a huge rally got underway in front of the Court’s building here in the capital on the evening of May 3. National Nurses United also lined up in support of the protests.

“The Supreme Court’s draft opinion” by right-wing Justice Samuel Alito “to overturn Roe v. Wade is an outrage and an affront to the opinion of the majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, including a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy,” CLUW President Elise Bryant, a News Guild member, declared.

The D.C. rally, which began at 5 p.m., stretched into the night and featured a parade of speakers aiming at both the Court and Congress, especially its Republican members. The Republicans have used opposition to abortion as a wedge “social issue” ever since the minute the justices legalized it nationwide in Roe v. Wade in early 1973.

It was also the largest rally by pro-abortion forces in front of the court in years. Thousands filled the Court’s plaza and adjoining sidewalk, occupied all of First Street N.E., and spilled far into the U.S. Capitol grounds—fitting since Congress, like the Court, got hit.

The key speaker in D.C., an angry Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., declared there’s an immediate way to circumvent Alito’s draft: Kill the Senate’s filibuster rule, which lets its 50 Republicans block House-passed legislation to write the right to abortion—and specifically the Roe ruling—into law. Then pass that bill and send it to Democratic President Joe Biden.

But before Warren spoke, one Black woman speaker hit at Congressional Democrats and Biden. The woman, who was not identified, faulted lawmakers for letting the 1976 Hyde amendment, banning Medicaid funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, stand ever since. That harms poor, Black, and brown women, she said.

After telling them the president refuses to meet with women who have had abortions, or with abortion providers, she asked “Where the f— is Joe?” The crowd replied “Where’s Joe?” minus the “f” word.

But the crowd’s greatest ire, in D.C. and nationwide—including two rallies in Chicago—was aimed at Republicans in general and the leaked draft opinion by Alito in particular. Speaking for the court’s Republican-named five-person right-wing majority, his draft declared the right to an abortion is not in the Constitution and is wrong. His decision tossed Roe.

“Abort Alioto,” one hand-made D.C. sign read in response. “Pro-choice is pro-woman,” another stated. “If my uterus shot bullets, would you stop regulating it?” college student Hanna Weinstein of New Jersey asked on her hand-made sign, linking abortion hostility to another Republican social issue, favoring unlimited gun rights. “I was just trying to bring some things together,” she explained.

“If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d f— a senator,” said yet another homemade sign, referring to Republican senators whose rabid opposition to abortion has killed the bill Warren cited.

“No uterus—no opinion,” read a woman’s sign at the rally in Portland, Maine.

While Alito, as the draft’s author, was the top target of ire, the other four justices on the opinion are extreme right-winger Clarence Thomas and the Republicans whom former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump named: Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Republican, but seen as an institutionalist leery of overturning long-settled law, is apparently not among the anti-abortion group on this draft.

The court’s three Democratic-named justices—Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer—are expected to dissent. Sotomayor, in oral arguments in December, has already declared that overturning Roe would destroy the court’s credibility. The draft went to all nine justices.

Would kick it back to states

Alito would kick abortion back to the states, 26 of which have extremely restrictive anti-abortion laws. Those statutes were either on the books and nullified by Roe, but are now revived, or have been passed by right-wing white male-dominated heavily Republican state governments.

The latest, in Oklahoma, took effect on May 3. It mimics next-door Texas’s “bounty hunter” law by criminalizing abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and putting enforcement in the hands of vigilantes competing for $10,000 rewards for catching offenders. Offenders include the women, the clinics, and anyone who would aid them—from spouses to helplines. Without state enforcement, federal courts can’t step in and clinics have no one to sue.

But the radical rightists who dominate the anti-abortion movement want even more. Once the Supreme Court formally rules abortion unconstitutional, in the case involving Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, in Jackson, they scheme to make it illegal for every woman, the Washington Post reported that morning. Anti-abortionists have met with GOP governors.

The thousands of marchers, dozens of speakers, and hundreds of signs made it clear the nationwide crowds vehemently disagree with that stand. So does CLUW, Bryant said.

“The Coalition of Labor Union Women will continue to join forces with others who understand that this is a long-term attack by conservative forces in the country. Together we will stand up and fight back to preserve our rights!” Bryant stated.

National Nurses United’s statement blasted the court majority, calling Alito’s draft an “unconscionable threat to women’s health and security, especially (to) low-income women and all child-bearing people who have fewer options to exercise their reproductive rights.”

“Nurses will stand with women and gender justice supporters” nationwide “to oppose political, legal, and employer restrictions on women’s health services, including the right to reproductive and other family planning services,” added NNU President Jean Ross, RN.

“Forced birth…has potentially deadly consequences” for low-income women of color, Ross explained. And if Alito’s draft stands, it “escalates decades of domestic terrorism targeting women’s self-determination about their families, and providers and practitioners of essential women’s health services.”

The ban also “should be viewed as part of the broader far-right assault on gender-affirming health rights in this country, including the laws targeting trans youth and their families, attacks on LGBTQ individuals, and homophobic bans on the word ‘gay’ in education.”

And the National Lawyers Guild, in a tweet, called Alito’s draft “a horrifying regression in basic rights, representative of the rapid expansion of state control over bodily autonomy.” It added: “We’re with all of you fighting this in the streets and the courtrooms.”

Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said Alito’s draft “is breathtaking in its sweeping dismissiveness of the decision’s impact… It discounts and largely ignores the inherent sexism and racism embedded in an analysis that could result in forced pregnancies and denying people the ability to make their own decisions about if and when to start a family.

Draft eviscerates a protected right

“The draft over-simplistically argues the decision about abortion access ‘needs to be returned to the people’s representatives.’ It would do so by eviscerating a constitutionally-protected right that has been in place for decades, and would only add to the politicization of abortion.”

Frye also warned the radical right will put other rights, and people of color, under siege.

“Abortion access has been under attack for decades, and it is not the only one of our fundamental freedoms at risk. Our right to vote, LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, and a host of protections are being targeted across the country,” her statement said.

The D.C. crowd greeted Warren with a surge and prolonged cheers. She pledged to carry on the fight to preserve the right to abortion through this Congress and the November election, which was also a big topic for other speakers. They all emphasized electing lawmakers who support reproductive rights and ejecting those who don’t.

“I’m madder than hell, and I’m ready to fight because an extremist U.S. Supreme Court of just five people think they can dictate to tens of millions of women decisions about their lives,” Warren exclaimed. “For years, extremist Republicans have been putting extremist judges on the (federal) courts to get to this day.

“We will not let this opinion”—Alito’s draft—“stand. Sixty-nine percent of the country wants Roe to stand and we can damn well get a vote on that on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” she declared, by killing the filibuster, first.

That filibuster rule lets the rightist Republicans block virtually everything, not just the proposed law to enshrine abortion rights. The filibuster “kept us from passing civil rights laws” for decades and “kept us from passing” a Democratic-Biden bill to strengthen and extend the Voting Rights Act,” Warren elaborated.

“And now it prevents us from protecting the right to an abortion.”

But killing the filibuster may be tough. All 50 Republicans in the evenly split Senate support such filibuster threats, and so do renegade Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.