Activists say the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade could be its last. On both sides of the abortion debate, activists say this could be the last anniversary before Roe v. Wade is overturned or significantly rolled back.

Activists look ahead to what could be the 'last anniversary' for Roe

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For decades, anti-abortion rights activists have been marching through Washington, D.C., to protest the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark decision that legalized abortion back on January 22, 1973. Organizers of tomorrow's anti-abortion March for Life demonstration hope the court will do that as soon as this year. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: For activists like Kristen Waggoner, overturning Roe v. Wade has been the focus of many years of legal and political battles.

KRISTEN WAGGONER: This could be the decision of a generation. My hope is that the United States Supreme Court has the courage to do what it ought.

MCCAMMON: Waggoner is general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that's been instrumental in the fight to overturn Roe. The group is working closely with Mississippi's attorney general to help defend a state law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds it, that would upend decades of precedent. Waggoner is scheduled to speak at the March for Life tomorrow, and she says this year feels especially significant.

WAGGONER: There have been generations of people that have been marching year after year who have been tirelessly laboring and relentlessly praying for the day when every human life is protected. And the idea that we will make the most significant strive toward that in the law is - it's incredibly inspiring. It's exciting.

MCCAMMON: Nationwide polls suggest a majority of Americans support abortion rights, but years of activism by abortion opponents at all levels of government have brought Roe v. Wade and related precedent closer than ever to being reversed. That activism has culminated with a strong conservative Supreme Court majority, including three out of nine justices chosen by former President Trump, who promised to choose judges who would overturn Roe, which worries activists who have also been fighting for decades to protect abortion rights.

MICHELLE COLON: It's sad. It's frustrating. I know for me, it has me very angry.

MCCAMMON: Michelle Colon is executive director of SHERo Mississippi, a reproductive rights group focused on Black and brown people. She says for many women in her state who face hurdles like child care, transportation and inflexible work schedules, it's already very difficult to get an abortion.

COLON: It's tiring because this is something I've been working on for 20 years here, and it just seems like today, now we're in 2022, it is harder and more difficult to access abortion health care in this country and specifically in this state than it was 25, 30 years ago.

MCCAMMON: Mississippi is one of several states that's down to just one abortion clinic, the one at the center of the Supreme Court case. That is felt most heavily by marginalized people, says Kari White, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher with the Mississippi Reproductive Health Access Project. She co-authored a study last month in the journal Contraception that found that Mississippians were more likely to wait longer for an abortion if they were low-income or Black.

KARI WHITE: So if the Supreme Court rules in the Mississippi case in a way that weakens or overturns Roe v. Wade, this means it's going to be even more difficult for people to access abortion care and that this is going to fall most heavily on people who are already experiencing structural disadvantages.

MCCAMMON: Mississippi is one of about two dozen states where abortion is expected to be quickly banned if Roe is overturned. Anti-abortion rights activists preparing to march through Washington tomorrow say they're hopeful this is the last year they'll need to ask the Supreme Court to do that.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.


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