WASHINGTON (AFP) - Wearing pink hats and T-shirts and shouting "Hands off my body," tens of thousands of women took to the streets across the United States on Saturday (Oct 2) in nationwide protests aimed at countering a conservative drive to restrict access to abortions.
In Washington, close to 10,000 protesters rallied in a square near the White House under sunny skies before marching to the US Supreme Court, which will have the final say on the contentious issue.
The protesters held signs that read "Mind your uterus" and "Make abortion legal," with several women - and men - dressed like late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, America's iconic women's rights crusader, who died last year.
The perennial fight over the procedure in America has become even more intense since Texas adopted a law on Sept 1 banning almost all abortions, unleashing a fierce counterattack in the courts and in Congress, but with few public demonstrations until now.
Two days before the Supreme Court is due to reconvene, rallies took place in several hundred American cities from coast to coast.
"Women are humans, we are full humans, and we need to be treated like full humans," said Laura Bushwitz, a 66-year-old retired teacher from Florida, wearing a dress with portraits of women activists and politicians.
"We should be able to have our own choice on what we want to do with our bodies. Period," she said. "Hear that, SCOTUS,?" she asked, referring to the US Supreme Court.
Michaellyn Martinez, a woman in her seventies with closely cropped hair, told AFP she got pregnant at the age of 19, several years before the landmark 1973 Roe versus Wade case, when the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to an abortion up until a fetus is viable outside the womb.
Martinez ended up having a daughter and getting married only to divorce two years later.
"It changed my whole life - not having access to birth control and abortion," she said. "I don't want us to go back to the time when I was a young woman."
At the Supreme Court, the marchers were met by counterprotests. A chain of riot police kept the two groups apart.
'A long and ugly fight'
In New York, activists gathered in Manhattan's Foley Square holding signs that read "We are not ovary-acting" and "I have a vagenda." Juliette O'Shea, 17, organised about 30 teens from her Manhattan high school to attend the rally to "show solidarity" with Texas.
"We're trying to show that we are a strong and unified group of people who will not be silent when crazy abortion bans like the one in Texas are put into place," O'Shea told AFP. "I think that this will be a long and ugly fight."
The Supreme Court has already refused to block the Texas law and has agreed to review a restrictive Mississippi law that could provide an opportunity to overturn Roe versus Wade.
So far this year, 19 states have adopted 63 laws restricting access to abortions.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, told protesters in Washington the story of a Texas woman who had to drive more than 1,600km, six hours one way, across three state lines, to get an abortion in Colorado - alone, because she was afraid that anybody helping her might get sued.
"No matter where you are, this fight is at your doorstep right now," McGill Johnson said. "This moment is dark, but that is why we are here."
The organisers of the Rally for Abortion Justice have called on Congress to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law, to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.
A Bill to that effect was adopted a week ago in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, but has no chance of passing the Senate where Republicans have enough votes to block it.
Former president Donald Trump's appointment of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court emboldened local conservative elected officials across the country to embark on an anti-abortion offensive.
If the high court were to overturn Roe versus Wade, every state would be free to ban or allow abortions.
That would mean 36 million women in 26 states - nearly half of American women of reproductive age - would likely lose the legal right to an abortion, according to a Planned Parenthood report released Friday.