'New era' or 'dark day'? Americans divided as they react to Supreme Court overturning Roe.
Moments after the Supreme Court ruled Americans no longer have a constitutional right to abortion, staff at Hope Clinic For Women in southern Illinois called an emergency meeting.
"When I saw the decision, my heart dropped below my stomach," said Hanz Dismer, education and research coordinator at the clinic in Granite City, Illinois, about 10 minutes from Missouri, where nearly all abortions are now illegal.
"I thought I was going to throw up. But I didn’t. I knew this was gonna happen," Dismer told USA TODAY. "We have patients in front of us, and we have to continue working like this isn’t happening, even when it is."
Elsewhere, anti-abortion rights activists celebrated. "I am overjoyed," said Connie Lang of Norman, Oklahoma. "This is not a negative for women. This is the biggest positive that's ever happened."
The high court ruling Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision in 1973, and erased national reproductive rights in place for nearly five decades. A majority of the justices held that the right to end a pregnancy was not found in the text of the Constitution nor the nation's history.
"Now we get back to building up a healthy society, affirming life for women and their children, born and preborn," said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life.
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Early Friday, Americans were processing the decision, some cheering the ruling and others condemning it.
"Today is not just a historic day – it is a new day," said Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, which trains pregnancy organizations worldwide to counsel women in hopes they will not have abortions. Godsey said the ruling ends "50 years of injustice for the unborn and 50 years of the craven politicization of women’s health."
Mark Harrington, president of Created Equal, a national anti-abortion rights organization, said, "The tide has turned for preborn children."
"A new era of the abortion battle has now begun! By meeting the needs of abortion-vulnerable parents and continuing to change public opinion, we are ready for the challenge of a post-Roe America," Harrington said in a statement.
The anti-abortion rights organization 40 Days for Life, whose volunteers pray outside Planned Parenthood clinics, announced it will hold vigils outside its locations. The group said in a statement that the decision will set "the stage for a grassroots fight to end abortion on the local level."
"Although this is a huge victory and a tremendous moment in history, we’re not popping any champagne bottles just yet," co-founder Shawn Carney said in a statement. "Now is when the real work begins."
Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said he was "gratified and happy" about the ruling. Lauinger said he got involved with the anti-abortion rights movement after the birth of his firstborn in 1972, a few months before Roe v. Wade was decided.
Reading headlines of the court’s decision in 1973 felt like a smack in the face, Lauinger said. Nearly 50 years later, the ruling marks "the beginning of a new phase of the pro-life efforts," he said.
Abortion rights activists 'feel punched in the stomach'
Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, called for nationwide protests and said events were scheduled in more than a dozen cities, from New York and Boston to Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. Many warned the burden of the ruling disproportionately falls on people of color and those who are low-income.
"The people need to stand up, to bring the gears of society to a grinding halt through nonviolent mass resistance to compel the federal government to reverse such a decision by codifying into law access to abortion on demand nationwide," Sunsara Taylor of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights said in a statement.
Abortion has long been a divisive U.S. issue, but one whose partisan divides have widened in the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center. Its survey this year found that 61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 37% say it should be outlawed in all or most cases.
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According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group, there were about 930,000 abortions in the USA in 2020, down from a national high of about 1.6 million in 1990. Advocates in part credit the Affordable Care Act and birth control access provisions with helping reduce abortions.
"What if something were to happen where I needed to have an abortion? I'm not ready to raise a child, I know that for sure," Charm Wolford, 15, in Athens, Georgia, told the USA TODAY Network. "I shouldn't be fighting for rights that I should just have, when I can't even vote for them."
Advocate Linda Taggart called the ruling a "disaster." She worked as an administrator for the Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida, from 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade, until the early 2000s, when she retired. During that time, the clinic was bombed twice, and two doctors were murdered.
"This makes me sick to my stomach," Taggart, 83, told the USA TODAY Network. "Women are going to lose their lives having illegal abortions. Only the women with money will be able to travel to obtain an abortion."
Her daughter, Keri, worked at the clinic in the 1990s and was there the day Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, were murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in the clinic's parking lot.
"We're going to go back to the 'back-alley abortions,'" Keri Taggart said. "Women are going to find a way to get an abortion – whether they get it done safe and legal, or they do it themselves. That's just how it is. That's how it was back in the day, and that's how it's going to be now."
Deborah Nye told the USA TODAY Network she survived an illegal abortion in Missouri in 1966 after finding support from underground organizations and friends. In 1973, she helped establish the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa.
Nye said she was "appalled" by the ruling, which she said fails to consider the impact on women's mental and physical health and their economic, social, psychological futures.
"This backward-looking, Catholic-dominated, misogynistic Supreme Court majority today is caving to the well-financed vocal minority," Nye said. "I have been thinking about what I do next and whether I am ready to engage in this fight again because this took up such an early part of my life, and it seems like this will now have to turn over to a new generation."
In Deltona, Florida, Alyce Shelton wept as the news streamed in on her phone. Shelton, 60, told the USA TODAY Network she had an abortion in 1973, when she was only 11 years old. She got pregnant after a summer camp counselor raped her, she said, and was grateful she was able to terminate the pregnancy.
She now worries about her two daughters and three granddaughters. She’s struggling to believe that they have fewer reproductive rights than she did.
"I swear I feel punched in the stomach," Shelton said. "I really do."
For Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, which served as co-counsel for the Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Friday was "a dark day."
"Today, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government gets to decide whether and when a woman has a child," Wade said in a statement. "Now, states across the nation will ban abortion, entirely destroying women’s ability to control their own bodies. It’s abusive, dangerous and unconstitutional."
Trigger laws take effect in Kentucky, Tennessee, elsewhere
In states across the South and Midwest, abortions will be banned or made more difficult to access. The Guttmacher Institute estimated 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion.
Reactions to the ruling were strong and swift in Kentucky – the home state of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who played a role in appointing conservative justices who voted in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. A "trigger law" goes into effect immediately in the state.
At EMW Women's Surgical Center, the state's lone full-time abortion clinic, a few protesters gathered outside the downtown facility, where demonstrations are common. Joseph Spurgeon, a pastor at a church in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana, said they had come out to celebrate "the grace of God," adding that he will lead his congregation in pushing to outlaw not only medications capable of terminating pregnancies but contraceptives such as Plan B.
In Tennessee, the ruling triggered a 30-day countdown to a near-total abortion ban. The ban, once the strictest in the nation, has no exceptions for rape and incest. It places the legal burden on doctors to prove an abortion was necessary to prevent death, as well as proving the doctor made a best-faith effort to deliver a live infant.
Medical professionals raised concerns about the implications of the law. Katrina Green, a Nashville emergency room doctor and an abortion rights activist, told the USA TODAY Network her heart goes out to any Tennessean who is "angry or afraid about what will happen in our state."
"As a physician, I am worried more than ever for my pregnant patients," Green said. "They will no longer have options available to them. We will see suffering, and we will see deaths as a result of this."
In Texas, which also has a 30-day countdown, it will be a felony to perform an abortion at any point in pregnancy.
"While today we mourn this loss and the court’s failure, we must transform our grief into action by caring for our communities," said Val Benavidez, president of Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based organization of liberal religious and community leaders.
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In Wyoming, the founders of the state's sole abortion clinic vowed to open despite the ruling. The clinic was set on fire weeks before it was supposed to open this month, and authorities investigated the blaze as arson.
"Despite this deeply harmful and cruel decision, we remain fully committed to doing everything in our power to help the people of Wyoming get the health care they need," Julie Burkhart, the founder of Wellspring Health Access in Casper, said in a statement. "We are continuing to work toward opening our clinic, and our goal remains to provide compassionate abortion care as long as legally permitted."
In Oklahoma, Friday’s news was gutting for Tamya Cox-Touré, executive director of the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and co-chair of the Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. "We’re devastated," she said.
Abortions ceased across the state in May when a law banning abortions after the point of fertilization went into effect. Andrea Gallegos, head of the Tulsa Women’s Clinic, said the facility has been unable to provide abortions and has seen "complete despair and desperation from patients when we've had to tell them we can't see them."
Reproductive rights groups challenged the law and other anti-abortion rights measures passed this year in lawsuits pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. "We are waiting to see how they decide," Cox-Touré said. "But we also know it’s an uphill battle."
Without a strong decision from the state Supreme Court, nothing will bring abortion access back to Oklahoma in the near term, she said. Advocates will try to point people to states where they can get abortions legally.
"We are still in this fight, and our work does not stop just because Roe v. Wade is overturned," Cox-Touré said.
In Missouri, Elijah Haahr, who led the state House in 2019 when it passed a bill that included a "trigger law," told the USA TODAY Network he was "euphoric, jubilant" about Friday's decision.
"When we put together the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act in 2019, we included the trigger amendment, but I don't think any of us that were working on it at the time thought we would see this decision anytime soon," Haahr said.
Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic in St. Louis, which displayed a large sign reading, "Still Here," ceased offering abortions, said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.
"We provided our last legal abortion in the state last week. This is an injustice," McNicholas said in a virtual news conference. "I'm angry for every patient who has no other choice but to flee their home state for abortion care."
California, Oregon, Washington join to form 'West Coast offense'
Lawmakers, activists and medical professionals in states where abortion remains legal said they expect to see a surge of people traveling long distances to get abortions.
The Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington vowed Friday to protect abortion rights, announcing the creation of a "West Coast offense" that aims to both safeguard reproductive health care and the patients who seek such procedures.
California's Gavin Newsom, Oregon's Kate Brown and Washington's Jay Inslee posted a video on social media outlining their plans to work with legislators, providers and patient advocates to embolden policies and ensure protections for residents and out-of-state patients.
"We will continue to protect patients from any state who come to our states for abortion care," Brown said. "We still resist intrusions by out-of-state prosecutors, law enforcement or vigilantes trying to investigate patients receiving services in our states."
Several states, including California, have been ramping up legal protections for abortion providers and pouring resources into expanding access as clinics prepare for a possible surge of patients.
Colorado, Illinois and Florida, for example, have become oases of sorts for people seeking abortions from surrounding states that have more restrictive or no access.
"We will never back down," the Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition said in a statement Friday.
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Florida is likely to see an influx of patients as access collapses across the Deep South. Advocates expect Republicans there to push for further restrictions beyond a 15-week ban set to go into effect in July.
Kelly Flynn, president of A Woman’s Choice clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, said the news left her in shock despite expectations it was coming. "Let me finish crying," Flynn told USA TODAY in a text message.
At Florida Mango Health Center of West Palm Beach, staff grieved as patients sat in the waiting room, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
"It’s devastating," Goodhue said over the phone. Her voice broke. "There are tears flowing in our health center today."
Goodhue had awaited the decision with dread, but anticipating its arrival didn’t lessen the shock and despair it brought, she said. She said the decision affects everyone. The only way forward, she said, is to "fight like hell."
"We need new leaders. We need people that are willing to protect pregnant people, not come in between pregnant people and their doctors," Goodhue said. "And that’s what we’re going to be fighting for."
In Granite City, Illinois, Dismer said staff at the clinic are preparing for a 40% increase by the end of the year. The clinic saw patients from at least 19 states last year, Dismer said.
"Abortion is gonna happen regardless of whether or not it’s legal," Dismer said. "And we know that if people resort to unsafe methods of abortion, they will die or be seriously injured."
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Rebecca Johnson, The Austin American Statesman; Melissa Brown, The Tennessean; Dana Branham, The Oklahoman; Galen Bacharier, Springfield News-Leader; Patricia Ferrier, The Coloradoan; Antigone Barton and Hannah Phillips, The Palm Beach Post; Alex Anteau, Athens Banner-Herald; Lucas Aulbach, The (Lousiville) Courier-Journal; Emily Bloch, The Florida Times-Union; George Shillcock, Iowa City Press-Citizen; Kathryn Varn, USA TODAY Network-Florida.