The U.S. Supreme Court may be on the cusp of overturning 50-years of American abortion law, according to a draft opinion in a Mississippi case that was leaked to the news outlet Politico.
The draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, outlines ways a presumed majority of the nine justices believes the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade was incorrect. If signed by a majority of the court, the ruling would eliminate the protections for abortion rights that Roe provided and give the 50 states the power to legislate abortion.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Alito writes in the draft. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
While a final ruling was not expected from the court until June, the leaked draft – a nearly unprecedented breach of the court’s internal workings – gives a strong signal of the court’s five most conservative members’ decisions. During oral arguments in the case in December, conservative justices appeared prepared to undo at least part of the country’s abortion protections.
The Supreme Court has refused to comment on the leaked draft.
Should it become law, its first impact would be to allow a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks to take effect.
But quickly after that, abortions would become illegal in many states. Several conservative-leaning states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have already passed laws severely restricting abortions well beyond what Roe allowed. Should Roe be overturned then, those laws would take effect without threat of lengthy lawsuits or rulings from lower-court judges that have blocked them.
But, nearly half of the states, mostly in the Northeast and West, would likely allow abortion to continue in some way. In fact, several states, including Colorado and Vermont, have already passed laws granting the right to an abortion into state law.
Leaked draft, however, is still a draft, meaning it remains possible Roe survives. Anthony Kreis, PhD, a professor of law at Georgia State University, says that could have been the point of whomever leaked the draft.
“It suggests to me that whoever leaked it knew that public outrage was the last resort to stopping the court from overturning Roe v. Wade and letting states ban all abortions,” Kreis said. “The danger that abortions won’t be legal in most of the country is very real.”
Politico: “Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows.”
Anthony Kreis, PhD, assistant professor, Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta.
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