WASHINGTON — The plaza outside the Supreme Court is once again ground zero for demonstrators on both sides of the abortion debate, but the tensions and emotions this time around far exceed those of previous protests.
Thousands of protesters gathered after a leaked draft opinion published Monday night by Politico suggested that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion rights nationwide, could be overturned this summer. Some came from in and around Washington, while others had traveled from other parts of the country.
Amy Marden, 37, of nearby Alexandria, Virginia, was among the abortion rights supporters who flocked to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
She said she was protesting for two.
Marden said her mother, whom she spoke to after the late-night leak, “didn’t fight for this 40 years ago for us to go back.”
“I talked to her last night, and she said, ‘Go for me,’ because she can’t be here,” Marden said through tears.
Molly Sepulvado, 39, of Springfield, Virginia, a friend of Marden’s who also demonstrated outside the high court, said that while she was not surprised by the contents of the leaked draft, it was still upsetting.
“It’s sad to see it come to this point, even though we knew it was coming,” she said. “It was devastating to see.”
She also said the demise of Roe v. Wade would put women’s health at risk.
“People will still go” to get abortions, she said. “They just won’t have access to do it safely.”
Across from Marden and Sepulvado on Tuesday were anti-abortion rights activists like Kristin Turner, 20, who had flown from California to the nation's capital Monday for a previously planned “week of action.”
“When I landed, it just so happened that the leak came out,” said Turner, a member of the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising. “So my plans shifted.”
She said she went straight to the Supreme Court on Monday night. And she returned Tuesday.
Turner and other members of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising engaged in shouting matches with abortion rights demonstrators. They alternated between chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v. Wade is about to go” and “Hell no, we don’t need Roe!”
She said the government needed to do more to provide financial and other resources as alternatives for people seeking abortions. “Because we’ve had the Band-Aid for 50 years, the government hasn’t felt the need to do more,” she said.
On Turner’s side was April Spurgeon, 47, a lawyer from Oklahoma City who shook her head in disapproval at two women who were carrying signs identifying themselves as Catholics who support access to abortion. She approached them and tried to initiate a debate over the Bible and when life begins.
Spurgeon argued that the Roe v. Wade ruling “is based on no law,” adding that she did not support allowing abortion even in instances of rape and incest.
“I feel like, as much as I would hate to have to carry a baby if I was raped or molested, I do think that God still has a purpose for that child’s life,” Spurgeon said.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion access would be decided state by state — a move Spurgeon said she supports.
An NBC News analysis of Center for Reproductive Rights data found that 23 states would institute abortion bans, with “trigger laws” on the books in 13 of them.
“The liberal states will still have it. The Republican states won’t,” she said. “So you can still get your abortion if you think you need it. You’re just going to have to drive.”
Spurgeon said she was in town to chaperone her 12-year-old daughter’s sixth grade school trip. Asked whether her daughter understood the nature of the protests, Spurgeon said: “No. She doesn’t need to know.”
Like Spurgeon, Steve Corson of Fredonia, Arizona, said he also believes abortion rights should be decided by each state.
“I’m hoping the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade,” he said. “It should be a state issue.”
Corson, 65, who did not answer questions about whether there should be exceptions for rape or incest, insisted that the overwhelming majority of those who have abortions “are using it for birth control and convenience.”
Liza Malinksy, 21, and Carly Shaffer, 22, both students at George Washington University in the nation's capital, said they felt as though their human rights were under attack.
“Fifty years of stare decisis, previous decisions, are getting ready to be thrown down the toilet, and that’s just not right,” Malinsky said. “We’ve already come to this conclusion. This is already something that’s been decided on, and at this point, it’s terrifying to think that we’re working backwards on human rights.”