The speaker’s microphone cut in and out as Deanna Holland said the opening prayer, allowing the shouts of “my body, my choice” to ring over the assembled anti-abortion crowd.
It was a fitting prelude to the rest of the afternoon.
The atmosphere at the Utah Capitol was a mixture of euphoria and vitriol Saturday, as some 1,000 people gathered on the front steps to celebrate the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Organized just behind the anti-abortion throng, another group held a counter-rally, bearing signs and chanting in protest of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which removed the nearly half-century-old constitutional right to abortion.
The anti-abortion crowd cheered while listening to various speakers, and a live musical number was performed by Nathan Osmond, a nephew of Donny and Marie Osmond.
“How can we not celebrate?” Holland, the executive director of Pro-Life Utah, said in an interview. “Because we have been given a miracle.”
For the other side, however, the court’s reversal was the exact opposite.
Despite the original abortion-rights protest being canceled, more than 120 demonstrators showed up anyway. Jessica Robertson drove up from Cedar City to participate and said she cried four times in the wake of the court’s decision.
“It makes me terrified,” she said in an interview.
In Utah, the Legislature adopted a trigger law banning nearly all abortions, except in specific circumstances such as rape or incest. The law is currently under a temporary restraining order. It could take effect, however, in a little over a week.
“It was the perfect bill at the perfect time with a perfect sponsor,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said in a speech at Saturday’s event. “That is how God works.”
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, spoke after Ruzicka and pushed back on the notion that he is perfect, saying that only one man has ever lived a perfect life.
“Maybe there are times when we can all be perfect for a moment, though,” he said. “Maybe there are times in our life when we have to stop and think, ‘Is this the moment we need to be perfect?’”
U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, made a surprise appearance and gave a brief speech honoring three women in his life who had given birth despite unwanted pregnancies.
The afternoon’s final speaker was Curtis’ House colleague Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, who highlighted the nation’s principles while thanking the crowd for its tenacity.
“This country is built on miracles, and miracles we can expect because we are based on Judeo-Christian values,” Owens said. “... [On] June 24 [the day of the high court’s landmark ruling], we became a more perfect union, because America prayed for 50 years for this day.”
Despite the main crowd dispersing after the speeches concluded, the abortion-rights backers seemed to gain momentum after the event and remained for more than an hour, some of them verbally sparring with militia members and others in the anti-abortion group.
While the dialogue was often antagonistic, there were pockets of civility scattered throughout the two groups.
“A lot of times, we’re just shouting slogans, and there’s not enough compassion on their side, or empathy,” said 18-year-old Naomi Cernyar, an anti-abortion advocate who spent time Saturday talking with abortion-rights protesters. “And so crossing that little divide and just asking them and hearing their life stories and some of the hard things they’ve gone through, it humanizes [them].”
Holland added, “I understand that it’s scary right now, because they don’t know what it’s like to live without Roe. But we’re here, and the future is bright.”
All crowds had dispersed by around 4 p.m.