Source: China State Council Information Office
A bombshell leak from the Supreme Court — a draft majority opinion suggesting an overturn of a landmark decision that guarantees abortion rights — is shaking the United States, as heated debates over the issue, which has long been contentious, are polarizing the nation.
Supporters of abortion rights have taken to the streets to express anguish and anger in widespread demonstrations, while individuals and groups against the practice have also been vocal about their views, with rancorous battles taking shape between Democrats and Republicans.
The fight over abortion rights has laid bare the deep-seated divide in the United States, poised to add fuel to its political polarization and have far-reaching consequences.
The Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion in the United States, according to an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito circulated inside the court and obtained by Politico, which published the internal document on Monday night.
The draft opinion “is a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of” Roe v. Wade and a subsequent 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that largely maintained the right, Politico wrote in the scoop.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito argued in the draft labeled as the “Opinion of the Court.” “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled … It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
The Supreme Court confirmed the authenticity of the draft on Tuesday but underlined that “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.” Justices circulate draft opinions internally as a routine and essential part of the Supreme Court’s confidential deliberative work.
Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, tweeted that the U.S. Supreme Court — the highest court in the federal judiciary — “has kept its secrets and has kept confidential its internal processes and deliberations,” adding that “leaking a full draft majority opinion does seem to be unprecedented” though leaking in general is not unprecedented “but still very rare.”
Chief Justice John Roberts denounced the leak, saying that he had directed the court’s marshal to launch an investigation. “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. “The work of the Court will not be affected in any way.”
The leak came as the Supreme Court was considering Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an appeal case that involves a Mississippi law banning all abortions over 15 weeks gestational age except in certain circumstances. A ruling is expected by the end of the court’s term in late June or early July.
The justices could change their votes in the days or weeks leading up to the decision’s release. But Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general, pointed out that “the tentative vote seems strong” and Roberts, considered the court’s swing vote, is “irrelevant” if five other conservatives, including Alito “hold with their tentative votes.”
Alito’s 67-page draft opinion, accompanied by a 31-page appendix containing various state statutes criminalizing abortion, would effectively eliminate abortion protections at the federal level and hand authority over abortion access to the states if such a ruling was ultimately handed down, sending shockwaves through Washington, D.C. to the rest of the nation.
Tall metal barriers have been erected outside the Supreme Court Building, also known as “The Marble Palace,” after consecutive days of demonstrations staged in front of the property. D.C. police also activated its civil disturbance units, which include officers specially trained for crowd management and unrest.
Dozens of pro-choice activists stood against the fence on Friday afternoon, holding posters and chanting slogans amid rain showers, with no presence of anti-abortion advocates.
Protesters have also massed in many other major cities, including New York, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A coalition of progressive and reproductive rights groups is planning nationwide protests next week.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issued a citywide tactical alert after a group of protesters took over the streets of downtown on Tuesday night, injuring one officer. According to LAPD Chief Michel Moore, the crowd began throwing rocks and bottles when officers attempted to disperse them.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are seeking to codify abortion rights protections. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Thursday that the chamber “is going to vote on legislation to codify a woman’s right to seek abortion into federal law.”
Such effort is likely to fall short in a evenly-divided Senate, given its 60-vote requirement for advancing a bill. A similar measure was blocked by the chamber at the end of February, with one Democrat joining Republicans in voting against it.
Reactions from Republicans to the stunning revelation focused on criticizing it as damaging to the Supreme Court as an institution. “This lawless action should be investigated and punished to the fullest extent possible,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded during a floor speech earlier this week.
While abortion restrictions and bans have been introduced or enacted in multiple states run by Republicans, Democratic governors and attorneys general have sought to defend access to abortion at least in their states.
The Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based organization that supports abortion rights, estimated that 26 states are either certain or likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns or dismantles Roe. Legislators in 13 states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, have already prepared for that possibility with “trigger laws” on the books.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 57 percent of Americans oppose a ban on abortions after 15 weeks; 58 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases; and 54 percent say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe, compared with 28 percent who say the ruling should be overturned.
In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden called for the election of “more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority,” saying that he believes “a woman’s right to choose is fundamental.”
Analysts predicted abortion would become a key topic in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections in November. In addition, the draft’s language has sparked concern that the Supreme Court could reconsider and even reverse other established rights in the nation.
Members of the international community also warned against the threats to abortion rights for women in the United States and everywhere.
A spokesperson for United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that the UN chief “has long believed that sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation for lives of choice, empowerment, and equality for the world’s women and girls.”
“The tragedy about this whole leakage from the Supreme Court, unfortunately, now may make the Supreme Court overly political as one of the last institutions that were seen as sacrosanct,” Harlan Ullman, senior advisor at the Atlantic Council, lamented Thursday during a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution.
“So I’m really concerned that the image of this is going to have far greater consequences than whether or not Roe v. Wade is changed or kept,” Ullman continued. “And this is just another sign of these divisions that are present in America.”