Crowds have been gathering in front of Washington building since leak of a draft ruling suggesting Supreme Court is poised to overturn nationwide right to an abortion — something feared or hoped for by those on either side of the hot-button issue.
Protesters on both sides of the US abortion debate have faced off with chants, prayers and signs outside the Supreme Court building, hours after the leak of a draft opinion from the high court that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Dozens of people converged on the sidewalk just beyond the barricaded marble steps of the courthouse across the street from the US Capitol on Tuesday, boisterously but peacefully voicing a mix of support for and opposition to ending a constitutional right to abortion nationwide.
Early in the day, anti-abortion protesters outnumbered their opponents as they beat on drums and chanted through megaphones: "Pro-choice is a lie, babies never choose to die," and "Abortion is violence, abortion is oppression."
Some knelt in prayer.
One man wearing a pink sweatshirt in support of Roe v. Wade tried in vain to tamp down the chants of an anti-Roe protester by holding his hand over her megaphone.
Abortion rights advocates shouted back, "Off our bodies" and "abortion saves lives." Others held signs reading, "Abortion is healthcare" and "Abortion is not a dirty word." One sign displayed by a group identifying as Roman Catholics supporting abortion access said, "Thou shall not steal my civil rights."
"I think it can be overturned, and then it's going to become a war on women's rights again," Roe v. Wade supporter Chelsea White told Reuters outside the court. "And there's going to be back-alley abortions again. Because abortion, it's never going to be banned. It's never going to go away. All they're doing is sacrificing women's health."
READ MORE: US Supreme Court to investigate leak of draft abortion opinion
It appeared the relatively small protests at the high court were just a prelude to mass rallies planned by abortion rights advocates for later in the day in cities across the country, including New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The national Women's March organisation urged supporters to bring their families and signs to afternoon demonstrations at "courthouses and federal buildings everywhere," promoting the social media hashtag #BansOffOurBodies."
One of the more colorful acts of anti-abortion protest earlier in the day emerged in San Francisco, where a man calling himself the "Pro-Life Spiderman" scaled a downtown skyscraper while posting video footage of his climb on Instagram.
Local news media reported the man was taken into custody by city police.
READ MORE: Leaked document suggests US court will overturn abortion law
A leaked draft opinion suggests US Supreme Court could be poised to overturn landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalising abortion. Biden has said his administration is preparing for all eventualities but “it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials” in midterms pic.twitter.com/PWXoWzaKiW— TRT World (@trtworld) May 3, 2022
Biden calls for voters to push back on 'radical' abortion ruling
Also on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden urged voters to defend "fundamental" rights.
He warned the implications of the draft ruling could lead to widespread changes in American law as "every other decision relating to the notion of privacy is thrown into question."
If the ruling is finalised, abortion laws will depend on individual states and "it will fall on voters to elect" officials who back the right to the procedure, Biden said after the ruling was leaked.
Biden also called on Congress to enshrine legal abortion in US law – the only way of overcoming any Supreme Court ruling that the document apparently shows is set to be issued.
The president said he would "work to pass and sign into law" such legislation but acknowledged that conditions were not right with the Senate evenly divided between his Democrats and Republicans.