Capitol Police arrested dozens of abortion rights supporters who sat down in a crosswalk near the courthouse, obstructing traffic, as hundreds staged dueling rallies in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Nine justices were considering a case that could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The justices heard arguments in Mississippi's bid to revive a 2018 state law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, with the conservatives who hold a majority signaling sympathy toward the Republican-backed statute that was blocked by lower courts.
One of those arrested, Derenda Hancock, pumped her fist in the air as a police officer led her away from the crosswalk. Hancock serves as an escort for women entering Mississippi's sole abortion provider, Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic, which attracts regular anti-abortion protests. The clinic challenged the Mississippi law in the case argued Wednesday.
There was a boisterous scene outside the court before, during and after the arguments.
"Roe needs to be abolished. It was one of the biggest mistakes our country ever made," said J.C. Carpenter, 49, who drove from Marysville, California to voice her opposition to abortion. "I am feeling optimistic."
Abortion opponents, some carrying Christian crosses and playing Christian music, carried a variety of signs including "Abortion Is Murder," "Love Life" and "Turn To Jesus Or Burn In Hell."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., argued against abortion using the example of her son Cole, who has Down syndrome.
"His life is worth living," she said.
Abortion rights supporters carried signs saying "Abortion Is Essential," "Hands Off Roe" and "Abortion is Healthcare," and some chanted: "What do we want? Abortion access. When do we want it? Now."
"Guess what? When you make abortion illegal it does not stop abortion," Shannon Brewer, the director of the Jackson clinic, told the crowd.
Jen Rudolph, 52, who drove four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, with her 17-year-old daughter, said they were there to support Roe v. Wade.
"Republicans get abortions, Democrats get abortions. It's a healthcare right," Rudolph said.
"Whose choice?" "My choice!" was a frequent call-and-response on the abortion rights side, countered by "Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go."
Jo Luttazi, wearing gloves emblazoned with "Bans Off Our Bodies" on the palms, said everyone should have access to abortion as a form of health care.
"As somebody who is assigned female at birth, and having female anatomy, I have had a terrible time trying to just be able to be in control of my body," the 22-year-old said. "So issues around bodily autonomy have always been very close to my heart. I knew I had to be here."
A woman who wanted to be identified only as Nancy held a sign with an American flag on it that said "Pray."
"We need to come together to stop the murder of millions of children," she said. "I don’t understand why that’s so controversial. I’m out here to exercise my First Amendment right and I wish that would be respected."
The crowd rallying with the Center for Reproductive Rights swelled to about 400 as the sun rose over the majestic building, outnumbering the anti-abortion demonstrators holding up images of fetuses.
"You need to repent," one man yelled into a bullhorn, trying to drown out an abortion rights speaker. "You want women to murder babies. You love the murder of children."
The center's president and CEO, Nancy Northup, drew cheers when she said her organization's lawyers have defended abortion rights before the nation's highest court four times in the last six years.
"Four trips to the Supreme Court in six years is four trips too many," Northrup said. "We are here to win."
Democrats Diana DeGette and Barbara Lee, co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, were among the representatives who appeared. Lee told the crowd of her experience getting an abortion.
"I remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade. I survived. Many women, especially Black women, did not survive. We will not go back to those ways," Lee said.
"This issue is about racial equality and justice. This decision is about the right to make decisions about your own body. The right to abortion isn’t real unless everyone can access it."
Material from Reuters and The Associated Press were complied in this report.
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