U.S. President Joe Biden is blasting a draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court is in favor of striking down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, calling it "radical.”
“It concerns me a great deal that we're going to, after 50 years, decide a woman does not have a right to choose,” Biden told reporters Tuesday.
Should the court decide to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, Biden said it would set a precedent for other rights to privacy, including the right to use contraception and gay marriage.
“It's a fundamental shift in American jurisprudence,” he said.
The news that the highest court in the United States intends to return the decision on abortion to state lawmakers broke late Monday and was confirmed Tuesday by the Supreme Court.
By early Tuesday, the White House had staked out its position on the issue, urging Americans to vote in the November midterm elections for pro-choice lawmakers in order to protect a woman’s right to have an abortion if she so chooses.
“At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law,” the U.S. president said in a statement.
The issue is set to galvanize voters in federal as well as state elections, said Jessica Waters, professor of reproductive rights law at American University.
“It will be used on the local level because it is so extreme,” she told VOA. “This is not a decision where conservative candidates or the conservative base will be able to say that they are paving the middle ground or that they are even thinking about women's lives. The decision as written completely erases women from the equation and says point blank the state can completely ban abortion.”
Public opinion polls show a majority of the U.S. public favors abortions being legal in most or all cases.
A Supreme Court spokesperson declined to comment. A final ruling is expected before the court finishes its current term in late June or early July.
Abortion rights’ activists are up in arms.
“This is our worst fears coming true,” said Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, noting that should Roe v. Wade be overturned, 26 states with conservative majorities in their legislatures will immediately enact so-called “trigger laws” to ban or restrict abortion. This will make it difficult for 36 million women to access the reproductive services, especially those with a low income and limited resources to travel outside of their state.
“In order for women to fully achieve their potential, we need to have reproductive freedom, we need to have access to full reproductive health care, whether that's contraception or birth control, or abortion,” she said to VOA. “They are on a continuum of reproductive health care that should be legally protected.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, said if the reported Supreme Court opinion is true, the ruling would be “one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history.”
“If the report is accurate, the Supreme Court is poised to inflict the greatest restriction of rights in the past 50 years – not just on women but on all Americans,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
The leak of the draft opinion represents a breach in the highly secretive deliberation process among the justices in which their decisions are unknown until the rulings are officially issued. Overturning Roe has been a longtime goal of social conservatives in the U.S., and their activists are decrying the leak itself as an attempt to coerce and influence the court.
“[U.S. Supreme Court] Chief Justice Roberts must make it very clear that this will not be tolerated, the leak will be fully investigated, and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, in a statement.
Senator Mitt Romney was one of several Republicans who spoke in support. He said “if the leaked draft opinion reflects the outcome, it is a decision I support. The sanctity of human life is a foundational American principle.”
The document, labeled as a “1st Draft” by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated among the other justices on the nine-person court in February, was obtained and first reported by Politico.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” the draft opinion says. The opinion rejects the limits on state authority put by past rulings on abortion cases including Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey and says 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."