WASHINGTON Supporters of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law chanted "We love Obamacare" while opponents replied "We love the Constitution" in lively demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday as the justices weighed the fate of the statute.
Gusty winds whipped American flags, signs and banners as hundreds of supporters of the law outnumbered opponents at the white marble columned court building on the first of three days of arguments over the law signed by Obama in 2010.
Doctors and nurses in white coats as well as patients who said they have been helped by the law urged the nine justices to uphold it at a news conference sponsored by Families USA and other groups backing the measure.
"The Affordable Care Act was a light at the end of the tunnel and it came just in time for me," said Marlys Cox, 57, a teacher from St. Petersburg, Florida who said the law had saved her after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she lost her insurance.
Supporters of the law were bolstered by a brass quartet and drum and cowbell combo playing, "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Also marching in was one of the Republicans running his for party's nomination to challenge Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 election. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum told reporters outside the court building he would try to get Congress to repeal the law if elected president. As he was speaking, backers of the law chanted, "health care is a right."
Supporters of the law embraced the term "Obamacare" that opponents have used to deride it.
Many of the opponents of the law who took part in the demonstrations on Monday were part of the conservative Tea Party movement that is harshly critical of Obama and his policies. Opponents of the law say Congress exceeded its constitutional power to regulate commerce with a provision of the law requiring people to get health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
About 150 clergymen and other church officials held a prayer vigil in support of the law that included prayers and singing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."
The justices are hearing arguments over three days and are expected to rule by late June.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Will Dunham)