The news rippled across the country like a shock wave, passing through living rooms, bedrooms, dinner conversations and university dorms, leaving American women in disbelief.
Could the Supreme Court really be preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide nearly 50 years ago? Suddenly, with the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion in the case, the notion went from an abstract possibility to an imminent one.
Lauren Book said that when she heard the news, she sat her 5-year-old daughter on her lap, held her close and began to weep.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” said Book, 37, a Democratic state senator in Florida. “This is a different world for her.”
By contrast, Suzanne Abdalla, who works for a construction company in Michigan, said she was overcome with relief and a burst of energy. “It has been hard to live in a world where ending human lives is considered a good solution to women’s problems,” said Abdalla, 48.
The Supreme Court’s verdict will be one of the most important in history for millions of women, regardless of where they stand on the issue. Two generations of women have never known life without guaranteed access to legal abortion. Some of them have been fighting to have the Roe decision overturned since it was made in 1973.
A majority of American women – 62% – believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week, while 34% of women say the procedure should be illegal in most or all cases. The same poll found that women want Roe to be upheld rather than overturned by a margin of more than 2-to-1.
[What would happen state by state if Roe v. Wade is overturned]
For those who oppose abortion, the news that the court appeared ready to strike down Roe, based on the leaked draft, meant victory after decades of activism, although some worried that the draft might not be an accurate reflection of the final ruling in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Supporters of abortion rights, meanwhile, were facing a crushing defeat. They warned that the end of Roe would lead to drastic consequences for people seeking to end their pregnancies, particularly in low-income and minority communities.
Maria Santoro, 69, was a college student when Roe was decided. Friends of hers had had illegal abortions, and she still remembers the sense of joy on the all-female campus that followed the court’s decision in 1973.
On Tuesday morning, she arrived for work at the New Jersey high school where she is a school nurse and a colleague told her the news.
“It’s horrifying,” Santoro said. “It’s hard to believe it’s happening.” If Roe falls, she is ready to protest – “for my daughters and my granddaughters and my friends who have had abortions.”
Outside the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi, Derinda Hancock, 63, surveyed the scene feeling numb. The clinic, painted pale pink, sits on a busy street in Jackson but was relatively quiet: Just three protesters stood outside, including a man holding a “Killing Babies Today” sign. The clinic is at the center of the abortion case the Supreme Court is set to rule on.
For nine years, Hancock and other volunteers in rainbow-colored vests have made it their mission to put their bodies between people arriving for abortions and the protesters yelling at them. If Roe is overturned, Hancock says, Mississippi “is going to be a state of forced births.”
Most people in the state will not have the money or be able to surmount the logistical hurdles to travel to Illinois, Hancock said, which could soon be the closest state where abortions are legally available.
She had a message for people living in “blue, safe states” who are confident that abortion rights will be protected where they live. “Don’t feel like it’s going to be OK,” Hancock said. “When they’re done with all of us, they’re coming for you next.”
Kaitlyn Danehy-Samitz, 31, had just set up her new cellphone Monday when a text appeared with a headline on the breaking news of the leaked draft opinion.
“It felt like a swift kick to the gut,” said Danehy-Samitz, who works at an engineering firm south of Tampa. She said the members of the abortion rights group she volunteers with were “stuck in a purgatory between shock, devastation” and asking ” ‘How do we fight this?’ “
Serita Cox was having dinner at a California restaurant with three close friends when she glanced at her phone and saw the news. She blurted out “something rather rude” about the Supreme Court justices, and an intense discussion followed. One of her friends opposes abortion and said states should make their own decisions.
Cox, who founded a foster care nonprofit organization, asked who would be responsible for raising unwanted children. “I can tell you none of them thought they would be responsible or that taxpayers would need to pay to raise them,” she said. Her friends, she said, thought “somehow, magically, they would get immediately adopted by a nice family.”
Meanwhile, women who oppose abortion rejoiced. On Monday night, Emily Thams, a 42-year-old nurse, was attending a council meeting in the tiny city of Willey, Iowa, where she helped push for the passage of an antiabortion ordinance. It was during that same meeting that she and her sister learned about the draft opinion on abortion rights.
“God was at work last night!” Thams said in a text message Tuesday. “It was an amazing moment.” Thams and fellow antiabortion activists celebrated the news with Mexican food and a bottle of wine. “It was very exciting, and I am still in shock,” she said.
Pamela Gesund, a retired nurse who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., was never able to have children of her own. She said she used to beg women going into abortion clinics to let her adopt their babies. Gesund, 59, is nervous about the reliability of the leaked document, although the Supreme Court has verified that it is authentic but not final. Still, she says that in the battle over abortion, “the tide has shifted.”
Other women who oppose abortion said they were readying for fights at the state level. Erin Sullivan, 31 and a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Detroit area, said she found it “almost hard to believe” that the court was ready to overturn Roe, something she had long prayed to see happen in her lifetime.
But it would be “just the beginning,” she said, noting that Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has filed a lawsuit seeking to protect abortion rights should Roe be overturned. “This is a huge win, but there is a lot of work ahead of us still,” Sullivan said.
Younger people are facing a situation in which their options to end pregnancies could be very different from those of their mothers. Ren Allen, 24, recently moved back home to Jackson, Miss., after several years in New Orleans. She said she was acutely aware of her youth and could only remember two other major Supreme Court cases – the Citizens United decision on campaign finance and the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage. The demise of Roe would likely be the third, she said.
“My generation, I don’t even remember 9/11,” Allen said. “All I know is just this constant exhaustion from fighting. And I’m going to keep fighting, but that doesn’t make the exhaustion any less palpable.”
Some young women said they would turn their energy toward helping others. Ren Brian, 22, a public health student, stood with a crowd of about 150 people outside the Colorado Capitol in Denver on Tuesday protesting the draft opinion. In 1967, Colorado was the first state to loosen restrictions on obtaining abortions. In March, lawmakers passed a bill affirming the right to abortion, anticipating the possibility that Roe would be overturned.
“The first thing I thought of was, I have to make my home available for people to come here. I’ll do what I can – finances, places for people to sleep, driving places,” Brian said. “I didn’t think something like this would happen. I’m grateful that I’m able to help, if it comes to that. But I feel very sad.”
With Brian was Sev Armstrong, 31, who lives north of Denver and works in finance. Armstrong, who was frustrated by the repeated references to women’s bodies at the rally. At 17, Armstrong was about to start college when they became pregnant. Armstrong made the “incredibly difficult choice” to get an abortion, heading west from Nebraska to more liberal Colorado for the procedure.
Armstrong said the decision had a profound and positive impact on their life. The alternative path, Armstrong said, “looks like being trapped in a family that I wasn’t prepared for. . . . It would have completely derailed everything.”
Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which runs 17 abortion clinics in three states, said the organization was bracing for a surge of out-of-state patients if Roe is overturned. “Trigger laws” – which have been passed in 13 states including Missouri, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota – would ban most abortions immediately, leaving her organization as one of the few providers in a “desert” without care, Tocce said.
Even though the leaked Supreme Court opinion is a draft, it strikes a devastating blow to abortion rights, Tocce said. “It really makes clear that our deepest fears are coming true,” she said.
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Fowler reported from Jackson, Miss., and Brulliard from Denver. The Washington Post’s Lori Rozsa in Loxahatchee, Fla.; Annie Gowen in Lawrence, Kan.; Kim Bellware in Detroit; Emmanuel Felton in New York; and Silvia Foster-Frau in Washington contributed to this report.