It’s been exactly one year since Bethany Bomberger huddled outside a hotel lobby with fellow anti-abortion activists, filled with gratitude and optimism, when news broke that the Supreme Court had struck down Roe v. Wade hours before the official opening of the Pro-Life Women’s Conference.
Moved, she recalled this weekend what she described as a moment when “the impossible became possible”. She and her husband lead an anti-abortion organization that has recently joined forces to combat the growing acceptance of transgender identity.
As this year’s conference opened, Bomberger took the stage at an unassuming suburban convention center on the outskirts of St. Louis. Louis. “Who’s here with me to get their voice out?” she asked the crowd, leading several hundred women along in the wave.
“We have life on our side!” She wore a small gold necklace that read “Mummy”, a gift from her son.
The ruling eliminated the national right to abortion and sent the issue back to the states. It also radically upended the US abortion landscape, closing some clinics, prompting others to open, and setting up new battles over abortion pills and contraception. Legal abortions dropped by more than 6% in the first six months after the ruling.
For those who believe abortion is the destruction of innocent lives and have spent years fighting to end it, June 24 now marks “a great day in our country’s history,” says Shawn Carney, President and CEO of 40 Days for Life .
Carney’s organization is co-sponsoring a Dobbs birthday rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, where a crowd of people gathered Saturday morning to hear Mike Pence and Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece.
“The work for life continues,” said Pence, who has vowed to make abortion a centerpiece of his campaign for president.
Redi Degefa, who lives in Washington and works as a congressional staffer, says she came to the rally to show that young women are represented in the anti-abortion movement. She says she left college two years ago, is Catholic and carried a sign that said “Pray the rosary to end abortion”.
“It’s a celebration and also a reminder that we have to maintain this energy, the energy we’ve had for the last 50 years – we have to double it,” says Degefa. “It won’t be a victory until abortion is abolished in all 50 states.”
Those in favor of abortion rights also used the weekend to drum up support at events across the country. Many rallied in Democratic-led states such as California and New York, but there were also rallies in Florida, whose legislature recently passed a ban on most abortions after six weeks as a legal dispute rages in the state.
On Saturday, a crowd of abortion rights advocates gathered outside Union Station in Washington. Speakers at the event, organized by Marcha das Mulheres, emphasized support for access to abortion among republicans and independents.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, director of the progressive group MomsRising, received a huge applause when she asked mothers to identify themselves.
At the expo hall this weekend in Missouri, the tables displayed bumper stickers, prayer bracelets and stacks of “Pro-Life Kids” coloring books. Nuns in habit mingled with young women in T-shirts that read “Love Wildly” and “Life Has Purpose.” One selfie station boasted a neon sign reading “pro-woman and pro-life.”
Attendees were asked to “go dressed in their best 1972 or 2022 outfit” to a dance party, a reference to the year before Roe’s ruling and the year the court reversed it.
“It makes me so happy to know that I’m dancing to celebrate Roe’s overthrow,” said Danielle Pitzer, director of sanctity of human life at Focus on the Family. She had worn a kaleidoscopic sequined “disco dress” with platform shoes and a tiara.
While many women lamented the loss of the national right to abortion, conservatives – especially young women – spurred the anti-abortion movement and infused it with the renewed energy of their generation. For them, it was a moment of celebration and recognition of the new challenges ahead.
Some in the movement are skeptical that Dobbs represents a clear victory. Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the small anti-abortion group New Wave Feminists, was at a conference organized by the National Right to Life last year when the court delivered her decision. The room erupted in euphoria, almost panic, she said. Her own feelings were more mixed.
“It didn’t solve anything or do anything, it just created chaos,” she said. Some of the new state laws did not include exceptions for rape or incest, she says, adding that “horror stories” have since emerged in which women have been denied care due to pregnancy complications.
“Pro-lifers may have won the battle, but they won’t win the war” unless they write better laws and advocate for a broader social safety net. Mistakes “could easily lead to the codification of abortion rights.”
Missouri conference host Abby Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who is now a prominent anti-abortion activist. Johnson talks about the challenges facing the movement, including the general reluctance of Republican presidential candidates other than Pence to discuss the issue in public.
“I don’t know why some politicians shy away from abortion when they are clearly using it as a fundraising tool,” she says. “They’ve been raising funds behind babies’ backs for decades, and now that Roe is gone, are they going to pretend that abortion is no longer an issue?”
Onstage, she had warned about the rise of medical abortion and the abortion rights movement’s dedication to “never stop killing babies.” “We just had a big win,” she told the ecstatic crowd. “Let’s keep winning.”