‘This is a historic step,’ Supreme Court justice says of ruling hailed as a major victory for women’s rights.
Tens of thousands of women have marched across cities in the United States to protest increasing restrictions on abortion.
The 660 demonstrations around the US on Saturday, including on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington DC, were largely sparked by a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
The measure, which went into effect last month, is the most restrictive in the country.
In Washington, DC, protesters filled the streets surrounding the Supreme Court, shouting: “My body, my choice,” and cheering loudly to the beat of drums.
They carried signs that said: “Mind your own uterus”, “I love someone who had an abortion” and “Abortion is a personal choice, not a legal debate.”
Some wore T-shirts reading simply “1973″, a reference to the landmark Roe v Wade decision, which made abortion legal for generations of American women.
“No matter where you live, no matter where you are, this moment is dark,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, told the crowd at the Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington, DC.
She spoke of women who have been forced to drive for many hours across state lines – sometimes multiple state lines – to end pregnancies since the Texas law went into effect.
“No matter where you are, this fight is at your doorstep right now,” McGill Johnson said. “This moment is dark, but that is why we are here.”
The so-called “heartbeat” law signed by Governor Greg Abbott bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo, usually around six weeks. That is before most women know they are pregnant and earlier than 85 percent to 90 percent of all abortions are carried out, experts say.
The law relies on ordinary citizens to enforce the ban, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an illegal abortion.
“I don’t think that old men, politicians should be making the decision on what I can and can’t do with my body,” Alejandra Marquez, a protester in Austin, the capital of Texas, told Al Jazeera. “I think every woman should have the right to decide when they want to have kids, and how, and how many.”
Abortion rights advocates and the US Justice Department have now challenged the Texas law in state and federal courts, arguing that it violates Roe v Wade.
A federal judge in Austin on Friday heard the Justice Department’s request to block the law temporarily while its constitutionality is challenged.
Julia Kirkland, a protester who held a sign that said: “My abortion made my 3 kids possible,” told Al Jazeera she had an abortion many years ago when doctors told her that her pregnancy could have ruptured her uterus.
That same procedure would, in effect, be illegal in Texas today, she said.
“And although my life might have been saved at the time, I could have never had children after that,” said Kirkland, who went to have three children by choice.
Saturday’s demonstrations took place two days before the start of a new term for the Supreme Court, which is set to consider a separate Mississippi case that could enable them to overturn abortion rights established in the Roe v Wade case.
If the court overturns the precedent, abortion access would no longer be protected by the Constitution, leaving states free to ban it, limit it or allow it without restrictions.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision on September 1, have already denied a request from abortion and women’s health providers to block enforcement of the Texas law.
The appointment of justices under former President Donald Trump has strengthened conservative control of the high court.
In Springfield, Illinois, several hundred people rallied on the Old State Capitol square. Prominent among them were the Illinois Handmaids, wearing red robes and white bonnets reminiscent of the subjugated women of Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Brigid Leahy, senior director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said just two days after the Texas restrictions took effect, Planned Parenthood saw the first women from Texas travelling to Illinois for the procedure, with more following since.
“They are trying to figure out paying for airfare or gas or a train ticket, they may need hotel and meals,” Leahy said. “They have to figure out time off of work, and they have to figure out child care. This can be a real struggle.”
In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul spoke at rallies in Seneca Falls and then Albany. “I’m sick and tired of having to fight over abortion rights,” she said. “It’s settled law in the nation and you are not taking that right away from us – not now, not ever.”
At the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Democratic state Representative Melody Hernandez told demonstrators that abortion foes emboldened by the recent developments in Texas and at the Supreme Court would not prevail.
“An overwhelming majority of Arizonans, of Americans, support everything we are standing here for today,” Hernandez said. “And don’t let anyone fool you – we are the majority. We are made … of people from all walks of life, ethnicity, party, nationality.”
The organizers of the Rally for Abortion Justice have called on Congress to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law, to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.
At an unrelated event in Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins called the Texas law “extreme, inhumane and unconstitutional” and said she’s working to make Roe v Wade the “law of the land”.
She said she was working with two Democrats and another Republican, and they’re “vetting” the language of their bill. Collins declined to identify her colleagues but said the legislation will be introduced soon.