In a rare leak from the highest court in the U.S., Politico reported it has obtained a draft Supreme Court opinion showing a majority of the court in favor of striking down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The document, labeled as a “1st Draft” by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated among the other justices in February, represents a breach in the highly secretive deliberation process among the justices in which their decisions are unknown until the rulings are officially issued.
Those positions can change during the deliberation process, even after the drafting of a majority opinion, and the final ruling is expected before the court finishes its current term in late June or early July.
At stake is the issue of abortion rights in the United States, which since the Roe decision have been protected on a national level and reaffirmed in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
A Supreme Court spokesperson declined to comment.
Public opinion polls in show a majority of the U.S. public favors abortions being legal either in most or all cases.
“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,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement late Monday. “It would deprive half the nation of a fundamental, constitutional right that has been enjoyed by millions of women for over 50 years.”
Alito is one of six conservative justices on the nine-person court and overturning Roe has been a longtime goal of social conservatives in the United States.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” the draft opinion says.
The justices are deciding on the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves the state of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
A federal appeals court ruled against Mississippi, saying its timeframe went against the standards set in Roe and Casey that allow a mother to terminate a pregnancy without state interference before a fetus is viable outside the womb.
The draft opinion rejects the limits on state authority in the Roe and Casey decisions, saying state lawmakers should be the ones to decide what is legal in their state.
“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the draft says. “The Constitution does not prohibit citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
Politico said it received a copy of the 98-page draft decision “from a person familiar with the court’s proceedings in the Mississippi case along with other details supporting the authenticity of the document.”
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.