Attendees at the National Right to Life Convention had nearly filled a hotel conference room Friday for a conservative author’s talk when the news broke around 10 a.m. ET.
Cheers could be heard from outside the room, and a man shouted, “Roe’s been overturned!”
Inside the room, some started clapping, while others checked their phones in the minutes after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had made access to abortion a federal constitutional right. The session was derailed. Conventiongoers hugged one another, and some were visibly emotional.
The moment at the annual convention this weekend for the largest anti-abortion group in the US consummated a win for which advocates had fought for decades through organizing, lobbying and voting. While the court’s overturning of its historic ruling had been expected for a variety of reasons, it was a highly emotional day for people on both sides of the debate on abortion access in the United States.
Many convention attendees who spoke with CNN after the ruling said they had been involved with the anti-abortion movement for years.
Jessica Rodgers, 33, was speaking to a group of teens attending the convention, explaining just “how historic today might be” as the ruling came in. A former intern with National Right to Life who’s now the vice president of DC Metro Life Alliance, Rodgers said the ruling moved her to tears.
“To see this barrier put up for all of these decades that have prevented states from taking necessary steps to protect human life at every level. To see that barrier fall and crash was just kind of euphoric. It was joyous,” she told CNN on Friday.
Carol Tobias, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, said attendees would “be celebrating for the rest of the weekend.” (National Right to Life did not provide the number of attendees at this year’s convention.)
“We are all excited,” Tobias told CNN, shortly after the decision. “Of course, everybody here is erupting in tears of joy that this has finally happened.”
Anne Carmichael, a former executive director for Missouri Right to Life, was in fifth grade when Roe was handed down. She said she had since made it her life’s work to ensure the decision was overturned.
“It’s so hard to actually get your head around it now that it’s here,” Carmichael said.
“Everyone here is elated, but it’s very emotional for everybody,” Carmichael said, adding, “There’s a lot of people over the years that gave a lot of their life to this that were not able to see it. For those of us that were fortunate to do so, it is very momentous.”
While anti-abortion groups celebrated, abortion rights advocates expressed anger, disappointment and fear over the court’s ruling and vowed to fight back. “We are angry. And we are devastated,” Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the executive director of Women’s March, said in a statement. “This is a nightmare come to life, one with deadly consequences for women.”
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, 38, the founder and president of the anti-abortion organization the New Wave Feminists, said she was experiencing mixed emotions.
“It was such a weird conflicting cry, because it was equal parts joy that the humanity of the unborn child is being recognized but also this deep agony for all of the women in our country right now who are absolutely terrified what this decision looks like for them. Because they haven’t seen states actually step up and give them something. They’re only seeing stuff being taken away.”
Rodgers and Herndon-De La Rosa both said the movement should focus on providing support to women.
Abortion rights supporters have warned that overturning Roe won’t stop women from seeking and obtaining abortions. And before the court’s ruling, 66% of Americans said they did not want Roe to be completely overturned, according to CNN’s most recent poll. The court’s decision on Friday does not make abortion illegal nationwide.
Herndon-De La Rosa said that if the demand for abortions isn’t addressed, there will be an increase of women getting abortion pills in the mail or traveling across state borders to get abortions “because we haven’t actually addressed the desperation that a woman feels when she is in a crisis pregnancy.”
With the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, abortion rights will be determined by states, unless Congress acts. Already, nearly half of the states have or will pass laws that ban abortion, while others have enacted strict measures regulating the procedure. In at least seven states, state officials say that abortion bans can now be enforced.
Tobias of the National Right to Life Committee sees more work ahead.
“We have a long battle ahead of us. Abortion is not going to be illegal because of this decision,” she said. “The elected officials are now going to have to determine what the laws will be at federal and state levels. There’s a lot of work to do. And we need to build a culture that is pro-mom, pro-baby, pro-life. So we know that this is certainly not the end.”
Lynda Bell, the chair of the board of the National Right to Life Committee and President of Florida Right to Life, teared up as she described what she was feeling Friday.
“I can barely talk,” she said. “We have waited for this for 49 years, and finally the court has recognized their egregious decision that stripped the states of the ability to protect life.”
She called the ruling the “correction of a terrible, terrible decision.”
“When you fight for something for decades and it comes to fruition, it is just stunning,” she told CNN.
Herndon-De La Rosa recalled being 16 when she became pregnant with her son. “The fear and terror when that second line shows up is so valid and so real,” she said.
She told CNN the only reason she now has a 21-year-old son is “because I had a roof over my head, I had medical insurance, I had a family that was supporting me, not kicking me out in the streets.”
“We have to become that community and that family to people who are going to be vulnerable to still seeking abortions even when it’s no longer legal,” she added.