Washington - A leaked draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court on abortion rights has sent a jolt through the United States.
According to the internal document obtained by Politico and published on Monday night, the Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
REJECTION OF ABORTION RIGHTS
The draft opinion “is a full-throated, unflinching repudiation” of the 1973 decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights, and a subsequent 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that largely maintained the right, Politico wrote.
"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,“ Justice Samuel Alito stated in the document, labelled as the ”Opinion of the Court.“
"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,“ the conservative argues. ”It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives.“
A person familiar with the court's deliberations told Politico that four of the other Republican-appointed justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — had voted with Alito in the conference held among the justices after hearing oral arguments in December, and that line-up remains unchanged as of this week.
The three Democratic-appointed justices — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — are working on one or more dissents, according to the person. How Chief Justice John Roberts will ultimately vote, and whether he will join an already written opinion or draft his own, remains to be seen.
NOT YET A COURT DECISION
The Supreme Court confirmed the authenticity of the document on Tuesday but underlined “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
"To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,“ Roberts said in a statement.
Noting that “the work of the Court will not be affected in any way,” the chief justice also directed the court's marshal to launch an investigation into the source of the leak.
Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, tweeted that the U.S. Supreme Court “has kept its secrets and has kept confidential its internal processes and deliberations,” adding that leaks from the institution “are rare and remarkable, but they are not unprecedented.“
The draft majority opinion, if adopted, would effectively eliminate abortion protections at the federal level and hand authority over abortion access to the states.
US President Joe Biden weighed in on the bombshell on Tuesday, saying that he believes that “a woman's right to choose is fundamental.”
"Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,“ the Democrat stressed. ”If the Court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation's elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman's right to choose.“
Top congressional Republicans have flocked to condemn the leak, calling it a coordinated campaign to intimidate and obstruct Supreme Court justices.
“Last night's stunning breach was an attack on the independence of the Supreme Court,” Senate Minority and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “This lawless action should be investigated and punished as fully as possible.”
POTENTIAL IMPACT AND SURVEY RESULTS
Without Roe, abortion would immediately become illegal in at least 13 states across the United States, while Republican-led states are already moving to pass and enact restrictive laws.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found that majorities of Americans support upholding Roe, say abortion should be legal in all or most cases and see abortion as a decision to be made by a woman and her doctor, not by lawmakers.
In the poll completed last week, by contrast, 57% of Americans oppose a ban after 15 weeks; 58% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases; and 54% say the court should uphold Roe, compared with 28% who say the ruling should be overturned.
Regarding state-level action, 36% say laws on access to abortion in their state should be left as they are now and 33% say access to abortion should be easier than it is now. Fewer, 25%, say abortion access should be harder than it is currently.
The Supreme Court is the final appellate court of the US judicial system, with the power to review and overturn lower court decisions, and is also generally the final interpreter of federal law, including the nation's constitution.
Justices circulate draft opinions internally as a routine and essential part of the high court's confidential deliberative work.
Besides abortion, the Supreme Court will rule on cases involving other major issues, including affirmative action and guns this summer.