The sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court turned into a microcosm of the national debate over abortion Wednesday, a cacophony from dueling rallies that pressed each side’s legal, legislative and cultural views.
Members of Congress on booming public-address systems tried to speak over the din, as the abutting anti-abortion and abortion rights groups waved signs, dressed up their dogs or chanted slogans.
“We have two rallies at once,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said when he paused his speech because of the noise and pointed to the anti-abortion rally. “Oh, those are the bad guys.”
Inside the Supreme Court, the justices heard oral argument about the fate of a Louisiana abortion clinic regulation that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
But outside, the lawmakers and crowds recognized that the case was just one move in the long legal battle that includes judicial appointments, particularly to the Supreme Court.
Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy told the crowd that legislation he introduced in January would extend that admitting privileges provision nationwide if “compassion or common sense prevails before this court today.”
“The idea that a woman in any state, not just Louisiana, but in any state in this great country, should suffer at the hands of a health care provider who doesn’t even have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is barbaric,” Kennedy said over chants of “My body, my choice” from the other rally.
A few minutes later, California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu touted her legislation to safeguard access to abortion, telling the crowd that states are now trying to chip away at that access and the only thing that has changed in abortion rights law is that President Donald Trump appointed two justices to the Supreme Court.
“Soon a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion will depend on her zip code,” Chu said.
Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines reminded the crowd that Trump has appointed 138 district court judges, 51 appeals court judges, as well as Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
“Today, our highest court in the land will have the opportunity to hear a case that could impact the future of the pro-life cause for generations,” Daines said. “And thank God we have Justice Gorsuch and Kavanaugh for such a time as this.”
Daines added that the court upholding Louisiana’s law would help return the issue of abortion back to the states and “take the power out of the hands of the federal court system and put it back in the hands of the people.”
Schumer’s mention of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh at the other rally drew a chorus of boos.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price,” the New York Democrat said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
“We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans, who have stacked the court with right-wing ideologues, that you will be gone in November, and you’ll never be able to do this again,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s statement did not sit well with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who issued a rare public statement rebuking the minority leader.
“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter," Roberts wrote.
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman accused the chief justice of following “the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Ruth Bader] Ginsberg last week.”
“Sen. Schumer’s comments were a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court, and a warning that the justices will unleash a major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision,” Goodman said in a statement.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley told abortion rights advocates that she appreciated many people dressed in shirts and hats that were given out at the rally, saying they were “dressed for battle, because we’re still in one.”
“Can you hear us in there? I said, ‘We are here and we are ready,’” Pressley said to the court building. “Ready to stand up, ready to fight back, ready to remind this court that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and our liberty, our humanity and our bodily autonomy is not up for debate.”
Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson, who defended his state’s law at issue in the case before joining Congress, attended the hearings and said Roberts might be the deciding factor in whether to uphold the law, even though the Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law in 2016 as an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion.
“He’s difficult to read by facial expressions and his questions, but he’s always measured in his tone,” Johnson told CQ Roll Call. “We’re hopeful that he’ll look at this and see the distinctions between this and the Texas case and understand why this came about. And that it doesn’t really impose the undue burden that the other side made so much ado about.”
Johnson then addressed the anti-abortion rally and held up a copy of the brief that he and more than 200 members of Congress signed that urged the Supreme Court to use Wednesday’s case to reconsider precedent under Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that first established that right to abortion.