On a day that the court delivered a ruling perhaps not matched in its potential to so sharply impact people’s lives since the decisions of the civil rights era, activists gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC where the decision was handed down.
The court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative majority that had been created by Donald Trump, upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.
In its decision to uphold the Mississippi legislation, the court said that two previous rulings Roe, and Planned Parenthood v Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong.
The decision, the culmination of years if not decades of activism from the nation’s powerful religious conservatives, jolted and shook the nation, even if the outcome had been widely anticipated, since a rare leaked draft was published in May.
There were immediate criticisms of the legal argument underpinning the decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, and accusations of opportunism levelled at the conservatives on the court.
“The health and the life of women in this nation are now at risk,” said Joe Biden, speaking from the White House. “It’s a sad day for the court and for the country.”
He added: “Voters need to make their voices heard. This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives who will codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law once again. Elect more state leaders to protect this right.”
Yet, the impact was most immediately felt in those states that had passed abortion bans and set in place trigger laws, that were activated by the court’s ruling. From South Dakota to Missouri, and from Oklahoma to Kentucky, abortion became illegal, and experts warned that the health of women in those states would now likely be impacted.
Many of the states do not even include exceptions for cases of incest or rape, meaning should a teenage girl be raped by her uncle, she would be obliged to give birth to the child. Women in those states will now be confronting laws similar to those in many Central American or otherwise heavily Catholic countries, where abortion has long been entirely illegal, or effectively so.
Experts have already warned that it is the likes of the poorest women in America, overwhelmingly Black women and women of colour, who will be disproportionately hurt.
Michelle Obama was one of many liberal figures who expressed deep sadness at the judgement.
“I am heartbroken for people around this country who just lost the fundamental right to make informed decisions about their bodies,” she tweeted. “I am heartbroken that we may now be destined to learn the painful lessons of a time before Roe was made law of the land – a time when women risked losing their lives getting illegal abortions.”
The group Planned Parenthood, the non-profit organisation that has been the major provider of abortions to many women, said in a tweet: “We know you may be feeling a lot of things right now — hurt, anger, confusion. Whatever you feel is OK. We’re here with you — and we’ll never stop fighting for you.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said: “The Supreme Court’s vicious decision to overturn Roe v Wade is one of the darkest moments in the history of this nation.”
She added: “Make no mistake: while other states strip away the fundamental right to choose, New York will always be a safe haven for anyone seeking an abortion.”
Attendant to this, those who had pushed for such a ban, a coalition of religious fundamentalists and often opportunistic politicians, celebrated the hour. Mr Trump, whose appointment of three conservative justices was as responsible for Friday’s decision as much as anything, told Fox News: “This is following the constitution, and giving rights back when they should have been given long ago.”
He added: “I think, in the end, this is something that will work out for everybody. This brings everything back to the states where it has always belonged.”
The scene outside the court, still blocked off with barricades and reinforced on Thursday by columns of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers reflected a deeply divided America and a despairing progressive younger generation that feels as if their leaders are fundamentally out of touch with their lives.
Chants of “no justice, no peace!” among the fast-growing crowd of hundreds soon gave way to declarations that the decision and the court itself, with its three Trump-appointed justices, was illegitimate. Some demonstrators brought blank signs and encouraged newcomers to join the chants of protesters who could be heard several blocks away from the court itself.
“Not the church, not the state, women will decide our fate!” they bellowed into a loudspeaker.
Just feet away, separated by nothing but pavement on First St, several hundred anti-abortion student protesters from various DC-area schools quickly mobilised wearing matching “pro-life generation” shirts from the high school and college Students for Life group; in stark contrast with their opponents, the pro-life students were in a celebratory mood and blasted Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA.
The two groups’ protests coexisted without incident, though a few groups from each side formed circles and passionately debated each other. The emotions on each side were high.
“Why are you bringing down the vibes, man?” asked one male college student holding a sign declaring “I am a pro-life feminist.”
“Because you’re a complete piece of s***,” responded a male demonstrator.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers walked to the protests in the sweltering summer heat from the nearby Capitol, where House members are set today to potentially send a bipartisan compromise on gun violence to Mr Biden’s desk.
Among them were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York, as well as Ohio’s Tim Ryan who is currently running in one of the nation’s most competitive US Senate races against Republican JD Vance.
“I hope people rise up and I hope this maybe can be the beginning of a new era of activism among people in the country,” Mr Ryan told a gaggle of reporters.
A furious Ms Ocasio-Cortez urged people to “fill the streets”, declaring, “We need sand in every damn gear.”
The sense of outcry was felt also among millions of ordinary citizens, from coast to coast, and across the heartland. Polls show a majority of Americans, perhaps 61 per cent according to the most recent polling, support abortion, but women in more than 30 states, many of them in the South, will now struggle to find access to such procedures.
In Mississippi, the lone clinic that provided abortions, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, better known as the Pink House, will be shifting operations to New Mexico, almost 1,000 miles away. Indeed, abortion bans in Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota went into effect immediately after the decision.
The writer and columnist Christy Stoop, a reporter with Religion Dispatches, said: “Roe being overturned is the worst sort of ‘I told you so’ moment. There was never a real question of why white evangelicals embraced Trump. He did what they wanted.”
She added: “Will the press start treating the Christian right like a serious threat to democracy and human rights now?”
Roe v Wade overturned: Pro-life and pro-choice groups gather outside Supreme Court
Caroline Kitchener, a writer for the Washington Post who covers abortion, said patients in Texas will have to drive an average of 542 miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic, based on data from the Guttmacher Institute
She said: “For patients in Louisiana, the one-way trip will be 666 miles. In Mississippi, 495 miles.”
Vinay Kumaran, a transplant surgeon in Richmond, Virginia said America was “marching confidently into the past”.
Robin Marty, communications director for the West Alabama Women’s Centre and a freelance reporter and the author of the book Handbook for a Post-Roe America, said people were already making plans to raise money to send women out of state. Alabama is one of dozens of states where abortion is now illegal.
“We are making a pool to send our currently booked patients out of state. If you want to cover expenses, please hit this,” she wrote.
John Bowden in Washington DC contributed to this story