US President Joe Biden says he does not know whether a leaked Supreme Court draft decision overturning a constitutional right to abortion is genuine or final, but his administration is ready to protect abortion rights when a ruling is issued.
“I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental,” Mr Biden said in a statement, adding that if the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling legalising abortion is overturned, elected officials will need to protect a woman’s right to choose and voters should elect abortion rights candidates in November.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the authenticity of the draft opinion, which was posted by Politico late on Monday.
The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, declined to comment.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft opinion dated February 10, according to a copy Politico posted to its website.
Based on Justice Alito’s opinion, the court would find that the Roe v Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a fetus would be viable outside the womb – between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy – was wrongly decided because the US constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights.
The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, heard oral arguments in December on Mississippi’s bid to revive its ban on abortion starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law blocked by lower courts.
Mississippi asked the justices to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in US politics and has been for nearly half a century.
The news broke little more than six months before the mid-term elections that will determine if Democrats retain their razor-thin majority in the US Congress for the next two years of President Biden’s term in office.
The reaction to the leak was swift.
The National Women’s Law Centre said the language in the draft opinion was “outrageous, irresponsible and shocking”.
“Any Justice who signs onto this opinion is fuelling the harm and violence that will happen to people who become pregnant in this country,” it said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the proposed shift in abortion rights would be among the most significant opinions in its history.
“If the Supreme Court does indeed issue a majority opinion along the lines of the leaked draft authored by Justice Alito, the shift in the tectonic plates of abortion rights will be as significant as any opinion the Court has ever issued.”
Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said it was the first step in a wider agenda.
“As we’ve warned, SCOTUS isn’t just coming for abortion – they’re coming for the right to privacy Roe rests on, which includes gay marriage + civil rights,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was “an utter disgrace”.
“This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights and lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law,” Ms Clinton said.
“It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace.”
She later defiantly tweeted: “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.
“An extreme wing of the Supreme Court may seek to deny that fundamental truth. They may try to force their views on a country where 70% of people want Roe upheld. We will not be quiet and we will not go back.”
Reports of the landmark US decision come just days after three Queensland senators – Amanda Stoker (the federal government’s assistant minister for women), fellow LNP senator Matt Canavan and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts – spoke at an annual anti-abortion rally in Brisbane.
Organised by Cherish Life Queensland, it drew a crowd of about 1000 people last Saturday.