Thousands of US anti-abortion rights activists have gathered in Washington, DC for an annual protest amid fears from women’s rights groups that the top US court may rescind the right to abortion in the country.
Protesters gathered for the yearly “March for Life” on Friday as the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court has signalled openness to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion.
“I am so thankful that God has brought us here. And that we are so, so close,” Rachel Young, 19, told the Reuters news agency, referring to the possibility of overturning Roe v Wade.
The march is held annually around the anniversary Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, January 22.
But reproductive rights groups have slammed the anti-abortion rights push led by Republican-controlled states as an assault on women’s rights to choose what to do with their own bodies. They also argue that anti-abortion rights measures put women’s health at risk.
“Roe was a historic victory for women, our bodies and our autonomy,” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement on Friday.
“The stakes are higher than ever, with the health and autonomy of women and families across the country hanging in the balance as Republicans work to methodically challenge and overturn Roe,” she added.
Dozens of states are pushing anti-abortion rights laws. But a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Mississippi, which is being examined by the Supreme Court, has emerged as a decisive challenge to Roe.
Upholding the ban could overturn or at least weaken the right to abortion as granted by Roe, which allowed abortions until fetal viability – about 23 weeks by today’s standards.
During a hearing late last year, conservative Supreme Court justices appeared receptive to the argument that the abortion debate should be resolved through the political process – by the states and Congress – rather than the courts, suggesting that they are willing to breaking with the precedent set by Roe.
Six of the nine justices have been appointed by Republican presidents, including three by Donald Trump.
A law in Texas has also banned abortions at six weeks without making exemptions for rape or incest. The Supreme Court has allowed it to go into effect while its constitutionality is being challenged in the lower court.
The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit challenging the Texas law last September.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday that the Biden administration will push to protect reproductive rights. “We’re deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care, and we will defend it with every tool we have,” Psaki told reporters.
But many Republican politicians at the state and federal level lauded the anti-abortion rights march in Washington on Friday.
“Today, #ProLife Americans are fighting to give a voice to the voiceless and to defend the defenseless. What’s more American than that?” Republican Senator John Kennedy said on Twitter.
Congresswoman Julia Letlow, a Louisiana Republican, struck a triumphant tone when addressing the anti-abortion rights protest on Friday.
“In the coming months, we anticipate a monumental decision from the Supreme Court,” Letlow said. “We know that it has taken a great deal of work from all of you over the past 48 years to bring us to this one moment in time.”
For their part, women’s rights groups called on Congress to codify Roe v Wade into law on the eve of the ruling’s anniversary by passing the House-approved Women’s Health Protection Act.
“Reproductive rights are human rights,” a coalition of 225 advocacy groups wrote in a letter to the Senate on Friday, urging the passage of the bill. “Every person should have the ability to decide if, when, and how they want to start or grow a family without the interference of politicians.”