WASHINGTON — I could hear the massive crowds chanting and screaming as I walked up Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court. Strident chants of “my body, my choice” and “abortion is healthcare” rang out into the beautiful spring evening.
Curious joggers paused to wander through the masses. Capitol Hill residents gingerly threaded their dogs through the crowd. Parents guided their children closer to get a better look.
Abortion protests are not uncommon in Washington, D.C. Almost every year since the monumental 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists gather annually to march against abortion, and in recent years, the Women’s March has gathered supporters to protest against former President Donald Trump and increasingly pro-life legislation.
But tonight was different. A Monday evening report from POLITICO revealed that Roe v. Wade is most likely about to be overturned, and the anger and desperation from pro-abortion rights activists was palpable.
The police were ready — they had sectioned off the crowds with fencing and were standing watch on the Supreme Court steps. Roads around the court were carefully blocked off. Officers patrolled the streets and crowds. Police dogs sniffed about the premises.
The crowd seemed to be almost entirely made up of pro-abortion protesters, and the only pro-life group that I encountered was the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU). I bumped into them as I briefly left the crowd to grab a sandwich, and they urged me to follow them, promising me that they were going to make a statement.
When I found them later, they were doing just that.
“Abortion is murder,” the small knot of PAAU members chanted into megaphones, completely surrounded by pro-abortion rights protesters screaming curse words at them.
I pushed my way through the crowd until I could see and film what was going on. One girl dressed in denim, sporting both a mask and sunglasses, flung water at the PAAU members. It splashed a man next to me, who looked annoyed and surprised.
“F*** you, f*** you!” screamed another masked woman, waving her middle finger at the pro-life activists. Two lanky young men followed her example, aggressively thrusting middle fingers toward the PAAU members and screaming, “F*** you, f*** you!”
Their eyes were wild with rage, and for a moment I wondered if they would assault the PAAU members. It seemed surreal to see these very typical-looking Washington, D.C., men behaving in such a manner in broad daylight.
A larger woman dressed in a green skirt and shirt next to me began yelling at the young men through her megaphone.
“This is what they want,” she yelled, before leading the crowd in chanting, “My body, my choice” repeatedly.
The tension around us increased. Amid the angry noise, I surveyed the teeming horde of pro-abortion rights protesters, filming them to capture their hostile passion.
One young woman in a red crop top was chanting, her eyes half closed as if in a trance, “I will not be subjugated! I will not be subjugated!” Her face and body were covered in paint and hand prints.
Then the woman in the green outfit began pressing her megaphone over the head of a PAAU activist, and cruelly blared the siren into the activist’s ears. Other PAAU protestors attempted to shield their friend.
Another pro-abortion rights protester dumped water on the PAAU activist, and a scuffle broke out.
“F*** you, f*** you!” someone shouted over my head as the activists grappled with one another. “F***ing b****!” someone else shouted.
The PAAU activists were huddled together as the woman in the green outfit continued to shove her megaphone in their faces. The painted girl continued her half-chant, half-scream, “I will not be subjugated!”
I was being jostled and shoved about, but there was nowhere to go, and I tried to continue filming the scuffle. The denim-garbed girl behind me grabbed and shoved me, but I did not get out of the way and she drew back.
My video footage of the tense moment shows the small group of pro-lifers in the middle of the scrum, surrounded and shoved around by enraged protesters, anxiously holding onto one another.
I later was told that a PAAU activist named Herb emerged with a bloody shirt, but he and his fellow pro-life demonstrators didn’t know whose blood it was. Everyone was okay, I was told.
At least one person fell on the ground near me, but then they got up. The pro-abortion rights protesters were aggressively trying to push the pro-life supporters out of the area and through a hedge.
“Go, go go!” someone near me shouted. “Move, or you’ll get f***ing trampled.”
One young man appears in the video wearing a black hood, black pants, black gloves, a black mask, and wearing a black backpack. I hadn’t seen him yet, and he had a friend with him dressed similarly. I wondered if they were Antifa-related before they disappeared into the crowd.
“Get out of here!” someone screamed above the noise as most of the pro-lifers fled through the bushes and onto the Supreme Court lawn, where police escorted them to safety. I could see PAAU activist Terrisa Bukonovic’s face, and she looked shaken.
Not everyone left, however — one pro-life activist who remained to face the seething crowd quickly became the focal point of the photographers and videographers. I later learned his name is A.J. Hurley and he is the director of a group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.
“My body, my choice!” they screamed at him. “No justice, no peace,” they continued to chant, as the painted girl repeated over and over, “I will not be subjugated.”
“Whose streets?” asked a woman with a megaphone. “Our streets!” the protestors responded.
The megaphone sirens continued to wail above the crowd as they moved in closer toward Hurley, who proclaimed his faith in God and urged the protestors to drop their defense for abortion.
“I don’t believe in your Jesus. Your Jesus isn’t real. F*** your Jesus, f*** your Jesus,” screamed the woman in green with the megaphone. “Christ is not here, baby, I’m right here, and right here today, I can get an abortion. I can get an abortion.”
“Pack it up,” she told him repeatedly. “You are actively trying to take away my rights as a woman. You do not have the right to say what I can do with my body. That’s not your choice. We do not believe in the same thing!”
I backed up to get a better view. The painted girl moved closer to Hurley, shouting into his face. The whole section of the crowd on the right side of the court was chanting, at least from what I could see and hear.
“Where’s your God now?” jeered a man close to my shoulder. I turned and stared at him, shocked by his malicious tone. He did not meet my gaze.
I could feel the situation escalating again, and anxious to put an end to it, I moved closer to Hurley and asked if we could chat farther away from the crowd. He agreed and slowly followed me away from the angry mass, which celebrated his departure.
I looked behind us as we went, unsure if the abortion activists or the police would follow us. No one did, and I interviewed Hurley on the sidewalk about why he had chosen to confront the angry, mob-like crowd.
“I’m here to be a voice for the voiceless,” he told me. “We just were in the belly of the beast trying to be a voice and a group of thousands of people who don’t care about life; they have no concern with life; they have no love in their hearts … it’s unbelievable that a bunch of people like this could gather out here for the right to dismember and disembowel their children in the womb. It’s disgusting and it’s despicable.”
Hurley said he was trying to tell the protesters that he was once just like them and that God loves them more than “they hate themselves and the shame that they feel inside.”
“Please,” he pleaded. “The time for comfort and safety is over. We have to put ourselves between them and let’s end this horrible tragedy once and for all in this country.”
My guess is that the majority of the crowd was unaware of what was going on. As I left, the chanting was still going on, and the old abortion rallying cries rang out into the spring evening.
A mother with her little toddlers walked by and overheard a woman shout a curse word at Hurley.
“That was not kind,” she said anxiously, probably for her child’s benefit. Our eyes met. “No, it wasn’t,” I said ruefully. Then I watched as they headed toward the protest.