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Abortion-rights demonstrators yell as they walk down Constitution Avenue during the Bans Off Our Bodies march on May 14, 2022, in Washington, D.C.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Taina Litwak got an abortion in 1974. Seventeen years old at the time, she had her boyfriend’s mother drive her from Connecticut to New York, where she could get the procedure done without her parents having to approve it. Then, just a few years later, Ms. Litwak’s own mother also had an abortion.

If they had lacked the right to make those decisions, Ms. Litwak said as she stood in the crowd at an abortion-rights rally in Washington, the consequences could have been severe.

“I might not ever have gone to college, and I didn’t want a child then. I’m a mother of two, and my children are my pride and joy, but I had them when it was the right time,” she said. “My mother was 55 when she had an abortion. A pregnancy at that age could have been dangerous.”

The Washington rally was one of hundreds across the United States on Saturday, part of a day of protest against a pending Supreme Court decision that is likely to end nationwide abortion rights in America.

A draft of the ruling, leaked last week, shows five conservative justices are prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 49-year-old decision that legalized the procedure in the U.S. Two dozen states are preparing to ban abortion if that happens.

Some states are mulling going further, with legislation that could make it a criminal offense to receive an abortion, and that could also outlaw some forms of contraception and crack down on charitable groups that help people get abortions across state lines.

The “Bans Off Our Bodies” protests could foreshadow the role reproductive rights will play in November’s midterm congressional elections, as the Democrats try to preserve their narrow majorities.

In New York, thousands of demonstrators marched from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In Chicago, Amy Eshleman, the wife of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, warned that the Supreme Court was opening the door to roll back other rights, too, including the right to same-sex marriage. “This has never been just about abortion. It’s about control,” she said.

Protests took place in other major metros, such as Los Angeles, and in smaller communities, including Lubbock, Tex.

In Washington, Women’s March executive director Rachel Carmona called for a “summer of rage” to galvanize voters in order to put a majority in Congress that would pass abortion rights into law. She warned that Democratic politicians had not taken the threats to abortion access seriously enough, even as their opponents worked for decades to get anti-abortion justices onto the Supreme Court.

“For years, women in this country have been warning about the end of abortion,” she told the crowd under overcast skies and intermittent drizzling rain. “In response, what did they say? We’re dramatic. Hysterical. Emotional. Overreacting. The day that we warned about is here.”

Nee Nee Taylor, a Washington community activist, pointed out that the effect of overturning Roe will fall disproportionately on Black and low-income people, who already face sometimes insurmountable barriers when trying to access health care in the U.S. Even in Washington, one of the country’s most liberal cities, she said, there are no maternity wards on the largely Black, working-class east side.

“The part of D.C. where I was raised, we don’t even have a hospital for a Black woman to have a baby,” she said. “East of the river is a reproductive health care desert.”

Protesters marched up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court, chanting “pro-life is a lie; they don’t care if people die.” The slogan was an allusion to the medical complications that will likely result if people can’t access abortions legally.

  • Abortion rights activists participate in a "Bans Off Our Bodies" rally near the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on Saturday.TASOS KATOPODIS/Getty Images

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Others called out by name the justices poised to vote for overturning Roe: Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft ruling, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Mr. Gorsuch and Mr. Kavanaugh drew particularly intense ire for seemingly having reneged on statements made at their Senate confirmation hearings that they considered Roe to be settled law.

Maggie Sanford, 28, said it was unconscionable that a minority of public opinion could dictate policy on such a significant issue. Since the 1980s, polling has consistently shown opposition to abortion sitting at about 30 per cent.

“Seventy per cent of the country supports abortion rights. Stop playing with our bodies and our health care just to win elections. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “There needs to be massive structural change.”

Keri Varner, 50, who had travelled from Chattanooga, Tenn., worried about the consequences for her state, which is poised to ban abortion when the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

“People in Tennessee are not going to have access to safe reproductive care, and they won’t have it in the neighbouring states, either. You’re going to have to go hundreds of miles, which is not practical. It’s going to lead to a lot of unsafe practices,” she said.

Like many at the march, she said she had never expected abortion access to be overturned after being in place so long.

“I really didn’t think this was going to happen,” she said.

The protest was mostly peaceful, with a few moments of tension as demonstrators confronted two dozen anti-abortion activists who stood outside the Supreme Court.

Courtney Hayes, 65, held a sign showing the words “abortion,” “same-sex marriage” and “pornography” with red circles and slashes through them. “What I’m trying to advocate here is God,” he said. “I’m not in favour of legal abortions. Same-sex marriage is immoral.”

Ms. Litwak, meanwhile, said she did not think anti-abortion activists and politicians had fully thought through the consequences of their bans. One in four women have had abortions, which would potentially mean criminalizing hundreds of thousands of people every year under some of the proposed state laws, she said.

“They’re not really thinking about what this is going to look like,” added Ms. Litwak, 66, a science illustrator by profession who spends her spare time volunteering to help women who come from out of state to Maryland to get abortions. “I can’t quite see how this is going to play out, and I don’t think they can either.”

With a report from The Associated Press

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