Loud Spice Girls music roared through First Street in Northeast D.C., and what appeared to be a massive dance party of people in colorful shirts was actually a gathering of strongly opinionated advocates for diverse abortion policies.
On the last day of the Supreme Court 2015 term, hundreds of people stood for hours in the heat in anticipation of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt opinion, which would determine the constitutionality of two provisions in the Texas House Bill 2 (HB2) law about abortion clinics.
Whole Woman’s Health would be the first major decision about abortion since the 2007 case Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Many saw that decision as whittling away the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade (1973).
Representatives from organizations on both sides of the issue, including Students for Life of America, Planned Parenthood, Concerned Women for America, Americans United for Life, Stop Patriarchy, the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, the Center for Reproductive Rights and more, crowded the area.
Signs displayed slogans like, “This is what a pro-life woman looks like,” “Women Do Regret Abortion,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” and “Keep Clinics Open,” among others. Although people continued to dance to the blaring music, there was an underlying sense of tension between those on opposing sides.
“We are the pro-life generation,” the mixed group of pro-abortion and anti-abortion advocates chanted, using the same words for different intentions.
“Abortion is medical, not political,” Dr. Sara Imershein, an obstetrician gynecologist and abortion provider in Washington, D.C., repeated between lines of her speech around 9:00 a.m. The Justices were scheduled to deliver the opinions at 10:00 a.m., and the growing number of participants in the dance party cheered for Dr. Imershein and continued her chant.
“That’s a tragedy,” Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America, said to a group of reporters.
Pointing to the cluster of about 100 pro-abortion advocates, she said, “That should never happen. We are outnumbered.”
The pro-abortion signs and supporters did outnumber those with the opposite message, but anti-abortion defenders stepped to the front of the group to make their presence known.
Inside the Courtroom...
The line of people waiting to enter the court room stretched through the hallways. About 16 people with the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) arrived at the court at 2:15 a.m. to get seats in the center of the room, and others started to arrive between 4 and 5 in the morning, a member of the group said.
Justice Stephen Breyer began reading the opinion for the Whole Woman’s Health case, and the mood in the court room changed. Each person immediately shifted in their seats and sat up straighter, clicked open their pens, turned the page of their notebooks, and listened more attentively than they had for the previous opinion for Voisine v. United States, a case regarding crimes of domestic violence under the federal gun law.
The Court held in a 5-3 decision in Whole Women’s Health that the two regulations create a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion and are unconstitutional, reversing the decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Justice Breyer read a lengthy summary of the opinion. Justice Alito announced the dissent and also read for an extended amount of time.
Outside, the celebration commenced (for many). The anti-abortion advocates did not join the party, and instead stood in front of reporters’ cameras to express their reactions to the decision. Journalists swarmed the apparent ‘losers’ in the abortion battle, and somewhat ignored the commotion created by of those celebrating the majority opinion nearby.
“Women lost today,” Hawkins said. The court’s ruling means that “states have no right in protecting half of their citizens,” she said.
To Hawkins’s left, a group of people apparently supporting Planned Parenthood danced with signs and shouted about the victory.
“We are super happy and proud, and my hope is that we will continue fighting for women to have the right to their own bodies, instead of politicians making the decisions,” Julio Daniel Diaz, a Planned Parenthood staffer, said.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but we have finally won,” another Planned Parenthood staffer said.
To follow along with the latest developments in this case and others at the U.S. Supreme Court, take a free trial to United States Law Week.
Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for Planned Parenthood.
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