A leaked draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that guaranteed abortion access, sent immediate shock waves throughout the United States, as many Americans braced for a future without reproductive rights that had been established for nearly a half-century.
The draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., was obtained by Politico Monday night in a highly unusual leak from the nation’s highest court, elevating to the forefront a health care issue that has long divided the country. The decision, which is not expected to be finalized for another month or more and could change in its final form, would shift the decision of abortion’s legality to individual states.
Roughly half the states are expected to ban abortion, mostly in the South and Midwest. Without access to legal abortion, illegal and dangerous abortions are likely to continue. And the burden is likely to disproportionately fall on poor women who are unable to drive to other states for the procedure, even when their health depends on it.
Among those who have fought against abortion rights for decades, Monday’s revelation served as the herald of a long-awaited triumph, the end result of multiple contested Supreme Court appointments and statehouses controlled by conservatives.
“The American people have the right to act through their elected officials to debate and enact laws that protect unborn children and honor women,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement.
But the anger from abortion rights supporters was fierce, condemning the decision as an attack on women as demonstrators flocked to the Supreme Court. Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said “it would represent the most damaging setback to the rights of women in the history of our country.”
In the months ahead, the issue could upend the midterm elections, animating furious Democrats while delivering a long-sought goal to Republicans. Democrats have vowed to fight, with some proposing a constitutional amendment ensuring abortion rights, but they would have to overcome many steep challenges.
Some anti-abortion groups, though thrilled by the decision, fretted about the public backlash, with abortion rights activists planning protests across the United States on Tuesday. Public opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
The leak of the draft decision, a seismic breach of the court’s usually reliable confidentiality, was sure to attract continued scrutiny. Theories were flying Monday night, with little known about the motivation of the leaker.
Research has indicated that overturning Roe would reduce the number of legal abortions by around 14 percent. Many states would continue to provide the procedure, and some are making provisions to help women in states that ban it. But many women who cannot travel would be left with few options, such as ordering pills online, conducting dangerous procedures themselves or going through with the birth.