WASHINGTON — Lucia Ruta remembers a time when abortions were illegal.
A native of Washington, D.C., she says she received an abortion in a back alley when she was 16, in the 1960s.
“The doctor told me that if I made as so much a whimper, he was going to stop and kick me out,” she said. “I was one of the lucky ones. My life was not destroyed, and I didn’t die.”
Ruta was among the thousands of protestors outside the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday as the justices heard oral arguments on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, a direct challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that could pave the way to overturning abortion rights.
Supporters of abortion rights and abortion opponents jostled in front of the court on a sunny Washington morning, with temperatures in the 40s, waving signs, chanting and shouting through bullhorns. A man holding a huge “Hands off Roe!” sign positioned himself in front of a line of signs that advised “Trust Jesus” and “Jesus Saves from Hell.”
Those on opposite sides of the debate were separated more or less by barriers, and police circulated in the crowd and guarded the long flight of court steps, but the protest was peaceful.
Ruta said she strongly opposes attempts to change abortion law.
“To turn back Roe after 50 years is just astounding,” she said. “This has nothing to do with life—it has everything to do with the oppression of women, because we’ve come too far to go backwards.”
Anne Perdue of Roanoke, Va., said she disagrees and believes that a pregnancy should be carried to full term and that the child should be put up for adoption. She said her faith believes that all life is sacred.
“I feel like God withdraws his favor from our nation when we shed innocent blood,” she said.
Perdue said that after she had her first child, she quickly got pregnant again and was pressured to consider having an abortion, but she decided against it.
“I believe there are too many options to abortions and that life is the choice,” she said.
But Dr. Nisha Verma, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said that much of the abortion care she provides her patients is due to medical complications experienced during a pregnancy, and an abortion becomes necessary.
“I take care of patients every day that they don’t find out until their second trimester ultrasound that their baby has a terrible genetic anomaly that is going to be lethal, and they need an abortion,” she said. “I think we often talk about abortion like this isolated political issue, but for me as an abortion care provider, this is happening in real people’s lives, and I feel really strongly that the people I take care of every day are capable of making these decisions for themselves.”
Some members of Congress also stopped by.
Democratic Reps. Judy Chu of California and Cori Bush of Missouri rallied with abortion rights supporters. Chu led the House effort to pass the “Women’s Health Protection Act” in September, which would codify Roe v. Wade into law. It has not passed the Senate.
Bush declined to comment, but held a sign in support of abortion rights.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), said in a statement that the Supreme Court has the “responsibility to honor the Constitution, the law and this basic truth: every woman has the constitutional right to basic reproductive health care.”
“Mississippi’s radical abortion ban, part of a nationwide assault against women’s freedoms targeting in particular women of color and women from low-income communities, is brazenly unconstitutional and designed to destroy Roe v. Wade,” she said.
Later in the protest, several buses arrived filled with students from Liberty University, a private evangelical college in Lynchburg, Va. Among them was Kate Jones, an 18-year-old from Pennsylvania.
Jones said she never had a strong stance on abortion until she began attending Liberty University earlier this year. Clutching a Bible close to her chest, she said as she started studying scripture, she noticed how everything comes back to life and the importance of it.
“If we stand for life, how can we stand for something that causes death and has brought so much hurt and pain into the world?” she said.
Jones said that she did not feel like she was at the Supreme Court to protest, but instead to pray for those in government, such as President Joe Biden and the Supreme Court justices, so that “they’re guided to the truth and that they make the right decision.”
Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that access to abortion is not only a Jewish issue, but also a racial, economic, health care and religious freedom issue.
“No one should be able to dictate one perception of when life begins in this country,” she said.
Katz, of Maryland, added that the Jewish faith does not share that belief.
“In our Torah, our sacred texts, says that abortion is not only permitted, but required at times, and so the only way we can have religious freedom and my ability to choose to have an abortion if I like, is if everyone can make their own health and moral informed decisions,” she said.
Katz said that there are religious groups whose members support abortion rights. The Pew Research Center found that religious groups with the highest percentages of members backing abortion rights included members of the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and American Jews.
“Today’s Hanukkah, so I think there’s nothing more fitting than being here saying we’re fighting for our religious freedom during a holiday that’s all about fighting for our religious freedom,” Katz said.