The US Supreme Court looks set to vote to overturn the Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion across the nation, according to a leaked initial draft majority opinion published by Politico.
The unprecedented leak from the conservative-majority Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the US when it emerged on Tuesday, not least because the court prides itself on keeping its internal deliberations secret.
Reuters and other outlets such as CNN were not immediately able to confirm the authenticity of the draft. The Supreme Court and the White House declined to comment.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft opinion, which is dated February 10, according to Politico.
Based on Justice Alito’s opinion, the Supreme Court would find the Roe v Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a foetus would be viable outside the womb – between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy – was wrongly decided because the US Constitution made no specific mention of abortion rights.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s representatives. That is what the Constitution and the rule of law demand,” he wrote, according to the leaked draft.
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 last Saturday.
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 Joe Biden’s term in office.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in US politics and has been for nearly half a century.
“This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights and lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law,” former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said.
“It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace.”
Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on Twitter: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the beginning & I pray the court follows the Constitution & allows the states to once again protect unborn life”.
In a post on Twitter, Neal Katyal, a lawyer who regularly argues before the court, said if the report was accurate it would be “the first major leak from the Supreme Court”.
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.
After an initial vote among the justices following the oral argument, one is assigned the majority opinion and writes a draft. That draft is then circulated among the justices.
At times, in between the initial vote and the ruling being released, the vote alignment can change.
A ruling is only final when it is published by the court.
Four of the other Republican-appointed justices – Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – voted with Justice Alito in the conference held among the justices, the report said.
“It is possible there have been some changes since then (February 10),” Politico reporter Josh Gerstein, who broke the story, said on MSNBC late on Monday night (local time.
The 1973 Roe v Wade decision recognised the right to personal privacy under the US Constitution protects a woman’s ability to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey reaffirmed abortion rights and prohibited laws imposing an “undue burden” on abortion access.
In a tweet responding to the Politico leak on Monday, Planned Parenthood said it was “outrageous”.
“Let’s be clear: This is a draft opinion. It’s outrageous, it’s unprecedented, but it’s not final. Abortion is your right – and it is STILL LEGAL.”
Far-right representative Marjorie Taylor Greene hailed the leaked report.
“The Supreme Court is preparing to overturn Roe – the most significant and glorious news of our lifetime,” she tweeted.
“Join me in praying to God for the right outcome. Life begins at conception. Let’s protect it.”
Another conservative politician, North Carolina Congressman Dan Bishop quoted from a section of the US Declaration of Independence on “unalienable rights”.
“That among these are life,” he tweeted.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Twitter New York will “always guarantee” the right to abortion.
“This is an absolutely disgraceful attack on our fundamental right to choose, and we will fight it with everything we’ve got,” Governor Hochul said on Twitter in reaction to Politico‘s report.
If Roe is overturned, abortion is likely to remain legal in liberal states.
More than a dozen states have laws protecting abortion rights.
Numerous Republican-led states have passed various restrictions in defiance of the Roe precedent in recent years.
Republicans could try to enact a nationwide abortion ban, while Democrats could seek to protect rights at the national level.