PHOENIX — Arizona’s Department of Public Safety deployed tear gas and flash-bang grenades on thousands of pro-choice demonstrators who gathered Friday to protest against the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
With the temperature hovering around 103 degrees Fahrenheit, well over 5,000 protesters flooded into the streets around the Arizona State Capitol Friday evening, their anger palpable.
Carrying signs with slogans like, “Abort the Court,” “Pro-Life + Pro-Guns = Hypocrisy” and “Abortion is healthcare,” women in the crowd outnumbered men by an approximate ratio of 3:1.
Many of the female demonstrators who spoke to Yahoo News expressed a mixture of disbelief, sadness and defiance over the court’s decision to overturn precedent on abortion. They also pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion as evidence that the court would seek to turn back the clock on access to birth control and same-sex marriage rights.
“We can’t go back. This is the tip of the iceberg. If you look at Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion and what he says,” one Phoenix resident, Brittany Burback, 37, said.
Burback brought her 6-year-old daughter Reagan to the protest because, she said, “I want to teach her, and when I told her what had happened [in Friday’s decision] she burst into tears and said, ‘Who decided that?’ And then the next thing she said was, ‘Was it a boy?’”
“I just want to show her that there are people fighting and that we will fight for her right to have a choice no matter what the reason,” Burback added.
Citing two competing state laws — one that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and another that outlaws them altogether — Arizona abortion providers stopped offering the procedure on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted his approval of the high court’s decision.
“Roe v Wade was a poorly reasoned ruling that had no Constitutional basis. The Supreme Court has made the right decision by finally overturning it and giving governing power back to the people and the states,” Ducey said in a two-part tweet. “I am proud that Arizona has been ranked the most pro-life state in the country. Here, we will continue to cherish life and protect it in every way possible.”
At the protest, Ducey’s name was featured on many of the signs that protesters carried, and two sisters who attended the rally, Michelle Gurion, 40, and Mareesa Surzyn, 34, offered their impressions of the state he leads.
“This is one of the saddest days in the history of this country, and even if it doesn’t change anything, we just wanted to let people know how angry we are,” Gurion said.
“I’m scared of what’s to come next. They’re wanting to re-examine all kinds of things, and that’s just taking us back,” Surzyn added.
“We’ve talked about leaving Arizona,” Gurion chimed in. “Because of that and the drought. It’s not really a great place to be, no matter how you look at it right now.”
As they marched, many women chanted anti-GOP slogans, including, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Republicans have got to go!” before convening en masse at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, where speakers addressed the throng.
A handful of pro-life demonstrators were on the scene, one of whom shouted, “God won!” into his own bullhorn, but the pro-choice protesters easily drowned him out.
Whether the court decision will “be on the ballot” in a meaningful way, as President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared on Friday, remains to be seen, but the mood at Friday’s demonstration in Phoenix was defiant, if not almost entirely peaceful.
At 8:45 p.m., a splinter group headed for the Arizona State Senate building, and banged on windows as Department of Public Safety troopers stood inside. Troopers opened fire with tear gas from second-story windows, dispersing the crowd.
It is not clear whether Friday will prove a one-off event. Democrats are hoping that mobilizing voters around the issue can help them avert catastrophic defeat in the midterm elections this year, and in presidential elections in future.
Not everyone in Phoenix was tuned into the drama. A Lyft driver named Theresa appeared to be unaware of the large crowd gathered at the Capitol or the court’s ruling, as she picked up a fare late Friday. “What did they decide?” she asked. “See, I don’t watch the news.”