At almost eight months pregnant, Brittany Echols, 31, stood in the Saturday afternoon heat; the stifling humidity hard on anyone as it topped 70 percent outside the Supreme Court. Yet, defiant to the blazing sun, sign in hand, she participated in her very first protest.
“My daughter is my choice,” it read.
Unlike some others in the crowd, the journey from Fredericksburg, Virginia wasn’t far, but it’s a state where the impact of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is yet to be determined, as there are neither trigger laws nor codified abortion protections. Her resolve to show up though, was clear: it was about her yet-to-be-born daughter.
“It’s important to show that pro-choice does not mean that you’re anti-life,” she says. “It doesn’t affect me personally, but it affects my daughter. It affects everybody around us. And I’m just — I’m terrified today.”
Maura Ugarte of Washington, D.C., standing with her two daughters, 8-year old Frankie and four year old Alma, explains that she fears her girls will “have less rights than I did when I was growing up,” even as they return to a home steps from the bench in a district where with some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.
For each protester, their story — their ‘why’ for showing up — was different. For some it was about the future generation or what other rights may later be restricted, for others it was about their past. Some walked up to the steps of the court from their nearby homes. Others drove through the night or flew in the next morning. Many told Rolling Stone they weren’t sure what else to do in the immediate aftermath except donate money or protest.
And while the protest bonded them for those few short days, the reality they each return to will be much different.
Missy, 25, traveled from Martinsburg, West Virginia to participate, she tells Rolling Stone, because of her rapists.
“I was fucking livid,” she says about the courts decision. “I’ve never had to have an abortion, but I was with somebody and that was their intention — to get me pregnant,” she says. “And it was very scary.”
In West Virginia, the state’s single abortion clinic stopped procedures the day the ruling came down. A law from the late 1800s remains on the books, although inactive for the past 50 years, making abortions a felony, with no exemption for rape or incest.
That’s a reality many of the young crowd members have never lived. Terry Karraker of Northern Virginia, however, knows all too well what it’s like to live in a state where abortion is outlawed — and what it means to find out you are pregnant without Roe v, Wade protecting your decision.
Taking the megaphone at the rally on Sunday, she told the crowd about a decision she made in 1972 — one year before federal protection for abortion was upheld in Roe v. Wade. It was a decision she shared publicly for the first time.
“I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a long time because a lot of women will not admit that they’ve had an abortion,” she tells Rolling Stone. And until that Sunday, standing in front of the court that did away federal protections, she had only told her story to a few people. “My best friends [and] my husband know,” she explained before adding that not even her mother is aware of the decision she made 50 years ago.
Growing up in a small city in Wisconsin, she was in high school and three months along when she found out. “I didn’t know I was pregnant until it was very, very obvious. You know, you think you’re invincible at that age. It’s not gonna happen to you,” she says.
Like in this new post-Roe era of Wisconsin, there were no abortion clinics operating in the state due to an 1849 law which makes virtually any abortion performed a felony. “I went to the big city of Milwaukee and I found Planned Parenthood,” she recalls. “They sent me to New York. Now I had to pay for this. It wasn’t free.”
But it was her first time on an airplane — roundtrip in a single day.
“I had the abortion. I was home by five o’clock that night. And I realized on the way home, that all the people that were on the plane with me out there, all had abortions, and some of them had their fathers and some had their mothers and some were alone like I was, but we all got picked up, went to the Planned Parenthood had the safe abortion and we’re home by five o’clock. That’s what we had to do to get that done.”
Today, Karraker has a 35-year-old son and doesn’t regret her decision at all. Instead, she marvels at her strength in those pre-Roe days. Strength she says, many young girls today will also need to find.
“How did I do it? I was 17 and I didn’t have a computer. You didn’t have anything. I just used the phone and the yellow pages and found my way out of a predicament I didn’t want to be in, and I think that was very brave of me and very strong at that time.”
Karraker wasn’t the only one sharing her story for the first time.
Flying in from Boston after the ruling came down, Kayla Schneider, 29, made her first trip to the nation’s capital. A roughly 24-hour voyage to stand signless, but in solidarity.
“I’m a teen mom. I had my son when I just turned 18 years old. It was a tough decision to make, you know, I went to Planned Parenthood and they were really helpful in making that decision. Then I got pregnant again when he was about four years old and had to make that decision again and I at that time I chose to have an abortion,” she says. “I had the choice both times and I made a different choice both times and I think everybody should have that option.”
With her purple hair tied back in pigtails, her black oversized glasses covering most of her face, it was only the catch in her voice that gave away her tears.
“I don’t want to get too emotional,” she says.
It’s her first time she has shared her story with someone other than family. She’s not ready to take the mega-phone — but she’s ready to let others know.
As one of the nearly one in four women who get an abortion, she says it was time to speak out.
With Schneider’s first pregnancy, she was six weeks along when she found out. Her boyfriend at the time had broken up with her just two weeks before she got the news.
“I was on birth control. I was on the pill,” she says. “He’s now 11 years old. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m married. And he has the best dad, not his biological father, but he’s been in his life since he was six months old.”
The second time she found out she was pregnant, it was with her now-husband, and again she was on birth control. And although they were in a committed relationship, they decided the time was not right.
“I was again really torn on what to do. Ultimately, I went and had the abortion at eight weeks. It was really hard. I still bring it up to him sometimes, but no, I don’t regret it,” Schneider tells Rolling Stone. “I’m out here for everyone. I’m out here for every person that gets pregnant and doesn’t have access to get an abortion if they want to. I’m out here for the people that have access to abortion and are forced to look at an ultrasound before they get one who are told that they’re going to hell if they get an abortion. I’m out here for the trans men that could be forced to give birth.”
With only a couple hours on the ground in D.C., Schneider says she plans to take her action back to Massachusetts to help others, even though they remain one of the handful of states that codified access to abortion into their state law.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker even issued an executive order within hours of the Supreme Court decision, to protect residents and providers, as well as bans the state from complying with extradition requests for out of state residents who might go to the state for a procedure or those who provide or assist in abortions.
Karraker, however, is not so protected living in Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin has praised the anti-abortion decision, and said he aims to restrict acess to 15-weeks in light of the Court’s ruling. Even so, Karraker hopes to pay forward the help she received in a pre-Roe world — even as the one she now finds herself is in some ways more restrictive. States like Texas allow private citizens to sue anyone (even those outside the state) who “aids or abets” an abortion.
“I might be going to some of the states where it’s completely illegal and try to help women find the means to get the abortion. I mean, I don’t have a lot of money, but I have more time than money these days.’
And she is prepared for the consequences.
“I have to get my husband to get the bail money first,” she says with a laugh. “He might need it.”