The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into the leak of a draft decision that suggests the country’s top court may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday said the leaked draft opinion was an authentic document. It indicates that a majority of the nine justices are set to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.
The court’s marshal has now been directed to launch an investigation into the source of the leak, which news agency Politico reported on Monday.
“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the court will not be affected in any way,” Roberts said in a news release.
Thousands of abortion rights activists expressed outrage over the report. A decision to overrule the case could lead to abortion bans in roughly half of the United States, and could have huge ramifications for this year’s U.S. elections.
However, it’s not clear if the draft is the court’s final decision as opinions often change in the process of drafting a ruling.
“We’re horrified, saddened, and livid,” said activist group Women’s March on Twitter on Monday night.
“If you are too, then now is the time to show up and show them our movement won’t back down from protecting our reproductive rights.”
The group, which founded Women’s March protests in 2017 after former president Donald Trump’s election, also called for demonstrations on abortion rights at “5 p.m. your local time.”
“We’re calling on Women’s March supporters across the country to head to your local federal courthouse, federal building, town hall, or town square,” the group said in an online petition.
“Bring your families, your signs, your stories, your heart, and your commitment to save Roe and access to safe and legal abortion for all who need it.”
Whatever the outcome, the Politico report represents an extremely rare breach of the court’s secretive deliberation process, and on a case of significant importance.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states in part. It was signed by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The document was labelled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” in a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, The Associated Press reported.
The court is expected to rule on the case before its term ends in late June or early July.
The unprecedented leak sent shock waves through the United States.
Roe v. Wade has been in enshrined in American law for decades, and “basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Tuesday.
He later told reporters before boarding Air Force One that if the decision were to be approved as is, it would be “radical.”
“If the rational of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question,” Biden said, adding rights like privacy and marriage could be at risk.
“If this decision holds, it’s really quite a radical decision.”
The U.S. Senate will now vote on legislation to preserve abortion rights into law, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.
“It is my intention with the Senate to hold a vote on legislation to codify the right to an abortion in law. … Every American will get to see on which side every senator stands,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor. He did not say when the vote would be held.
Hundreds of anti-abortion activists and pro-abortion rights supporters took to the streets of Washington late Monday in response to the news.
“The first line in the draft is that this is a moral issue,” said Annie McDonnell, 19, a student at George Washington University, in an interview with Reuters.
“If it’s a moral issue, you shouldn’t be depriving us of our choice.”
Christian conservatives and many Republican officeholders have long sought to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 7-2 ruling from 1973.
Plaintiff Jane Roe, later identified as Norma McCorvey, was an unmarried pregnant woman who was unable to get an abortion under Texas law, where it was illegal unless to save the life of the mother.
Roe’s lawyers said she was unable to travel out of the state to obtain an abortion and argued that the law was too vague and infringed on her constitutional rights.
The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List welcomed the reported news.
“If Roe is indeed overturned, our job will be to build consensus for the strongest protections possible for unborn children and women in every legislature,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement to Reuters.
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters