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Abortion rights demonstrators rally outside Supreme Court as major case is heard

The case challenging a Louisiana law is seen as a test of the court's willingness to uphold Republican-backed abortion restrictions being pursued in numerous states.
Image: Abortion rights advocates outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in a Louisiana abortion case on March 4, 2020.
Abortion rights advocates outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in a Louisiana abortion case on Wednesday. Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Abortion rights supporters gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, while the justices inside heard arguments for a major abortion case that has the potential to chip away at access in Louisiana.

The Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport is challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If the law is upheld, a district court found that two of the three remaining clinics would close, leaving the state with one abortion provider. Currently, about 10,000 women a year seek an abortion in the state.

The case, with a ruling due by the end of June, is seen as a test of the court's willingness to uphold Republican-backed abortion restrictions being pursued in numerous states.

Demonstrators dressed in bright teal, with signs reading “I love someone who had an abortion” and “Keep your policies off my body,” raised their voice in support of abortion access. The rally also attracted big names like actresses Elizabeth Banks and Busy Philipps along with Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Schumer told the crowd that Republican legislators are waging a war on women and taking away their fundamental rights and went after the court's two new conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

“I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price,” an animated Schumer said.

In a rare rebuke, Chief Justice John Roberts later said: "Threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

The demonstrators said they know the stakes are high, but they remain optimistic.

Hannah Siegert, 19, a student at Notre Dame of Maryland University, came to support women’s right to health care, which she said includes abortion.

“I am very hopeful. It is hard to be hopeful at times like this because you see how polarized the world is, but I have hope for my generation and the generations below us that together we will make change,” Siegert said.

Madeline Helbraun, 68, a physical therapist from Virginia, agreed but is worried that the court, in her eyes, may not make the right decision.

“I just do not want to see the country going backward into essentially the dark ages that we came out of,” said Helbraun, who recalled when abortion wasn’t legal.

Center for Reproductive Rights, along with other advocacy groups, helped coordinate the rally and said around 3,500 to 4,000 people turned out.

“The crowd is so enthusiastic and these stories together really tell a comprehensive tale about why the court should find this law to be unconstitutional,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel, state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The pivotal case also caused a rival rally, organized by Louisiana Right to Life, to take place simultaneously.

“We’re are excited to stand proudly alongside Louisiana women who are making sure their voices are heard because they have been hurt by the abortion industry,” said Alexandra Seghers, director of education at Louisiana Right to Life.

But abortion rights attendees said it wouldn’t get in the way of their message.

“All of these abortion restrictions impact someone we love, and we need to take action to protect abortion access in our communities across the country,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify.

After the oral arguments wrapped, Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator for the Hope Medical Group for Women, had a message for the demonstrators: “I’m in awe of them and we are going to fight to keep our doors open."

The Associated Press contributed.