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Emotions raw outside Supreme Court after Roe reversal

Tears of joy and of rage flowed after the high court overturned the half-century old precedent that held there was a constitutional right to abortion.

WASHINGTON — Tears flowed and voices bellowed outside the Supreme Court Friday, as activists on both sides of the abortion issue bore emotion-filled witness to the end of the Roe era.

“It’s really a visceral issue,” said Mai El-Sadany, a human rights lawyer who opposes Friday’s decision. “The people who showed up here are really angry and they didn’t want to be alone.” 

That was true for many of the abortion-rights supporters, who wore stickers, held signs, chanted slogans and, at times, wept. They vowed that they would continue to fight for abortion rights, and some wore T-shirts advertising their willingness to "aid and abet" women seeking abortions in states where they will soon be banned or heavily restricted.

Abortion rights advocates hold signs outside the Supreme Court after the court overturned Roe v Wade.
Abortion rights advocates hold signs outside the Supreme Court after the court overturned Roe v Wade.Frank Thorp V / NBC News
An abortion rights advocate cries outside the Supreme Court on Friday.
An abortion rights advocate cries outside the Supreme Court on Friday.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

At the same time, and just feet away, anti-abortion activists celebrated the ruling, praised former President Donald Trump for appointing justices who ruled with the majority and let their emotions spill out.

Paige Nelson, 20, cried tears of joy.

“I’m just so happy that no matter who you are and whatever extra chromosomes or whatever disability you might have, you get the chance to live this amazing life, and I will continue advocating until abortion is completely gone,” said Nelson, a Washington state resident who has friends with Down syndrome, a genetic variation in which a person has an extra copy of a chromosome.

Some states have passed laws banning abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Anti-abortion advocates celebrate Friday after Supreme Court overturned Roe.
Anti-abortion advocates celebrate Friday after Supreme Court overturned Roe.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

The demonstrations in Washington, which many activists expected to grow into the evening, were mirrored by similar rallies across the country. Police in the nation's capital said Friday that they would be more visible than usual, according to WRC, NBC's affiliate in Washington.

There was no sign of impending violence outside the Supreme Court early Friday. The political movements that favor and oppose abortion rights have decades of experience protesting peacefully in Washington.

Now, the legal and political battle will shift from Washington to the states, where anti-abortion activists say they will work to outlaw the procedure and seek funding for programs that advocate for women to carry pregnancies to term.

"We will be working in every single state, not just on advocacy and legislation, but also making sure that all of the other alternatives are there," CWA President Penny Nance said in an interview.

An abortion rights advocate cries outside the Supreme Court on Friday.
An abortion rights advocate cries outside the Supreme Court on Friday.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

For Helen Luryi, an abortion-rights supporter who works at a digital political consulting firm, the states are the next battleground. But she said she is focused on helping women access abortion services.

"The next steps are aiding and abetting abortion," she said.

She said she had come to the Supreme Court to send a message to anti-abortion activists and political leaders.

"The forced-birth brigade are out in numbers," she said, referring to the anti-abortion demonstrators, "and I thought it was important to show that people who still believe in autonomy and reproductive justice outnumber them.”