US President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged United States voters to defend access to abortion, describing as “radical” a draft Supreme Court ruling showing a majority opinion ending the nationwide right.
He warned the implications of the draft ruling could lead to widespread changes in US law as “every other decision relating to the notion of privacy is thrown into question.”
News outlet Politico late Monday published a draft opinion that suggested the conservative-dominated high court was poised to shred nearly 50 years of constitutional protections by striking down the right to abortion in the US.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday that a draft opinion on abortion leaked to the press in an “egregious breach” of trust was authentic, but not the final decision on the matter.
Roberts also said in a statement that he had directed the marshal of the court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak, seen as an extraordinary violation of institutional protocol.
Crowds of protesters from both camps descended on the Supreme Court building, with anti-abortion activists chanting "abortion is violence. Abortion is oppression" as well as "Hey Hey Ho Ho, Roe v. Wade is going to go,” referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v Wade that declared abortion a constitutionally protected right.
If the ruling is finalised, abortion laws will depend on individual states and “it will fall on voters to elect” officials who back the right to the procedure, Biden said after the ruling was leaked.
Biden also called on Congress to enshrine legal abortion in US law — the only way of overcoming any Supreme Court ruling that the document apparently shows is set to be issued.
The president said he would “work to pass and sign into law” such legislation but acknowledged that conditions were not right with the Senate evenly divided between his Democrats and Republicans.
“If this decision holds, it's really quite a radical decision,” Biden told reporters in Washington as he departed on a trip to Alabama. “It's a fundamental shift in American jurisprudence.”
“It concerns me a great deal that we're going to, after 50 years, decide a woman does not have a right to choose,” he added.
“But even more, equally profound is the rationale used. It would mean that every other decision relating to the notion of privacy is thrown into question.”
With many US states already enacting or preparing highly restrictive abortion laws, Biden said in a statement that he had ordered advisors to study “a variety of possible outcomes in the cases pending before the Supreme Court. We will be ready when any ruling is issued.”
“At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation” that codifies the existing guarantees seemingly set to be removed by the high court.
“I believe that a woman's right to choose is fundamental,” Biden said. “Roe has been the law of the land for almost 50 years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”
“Betrayal of confidences”
While the consequences of such a ruling reverberated, the method of how the draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, came into public view has drawn fierce criticism.
Several Republican lawmakers accused liberals of orchestrating the leak in order to incite unrest and sway the opinion of justices, and demanded a comprehensive investigation by Biden's administration.
“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 chief justice said.
“Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court,” Roberts added.
"This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.”
Where are we now?
Several states have already enacted punitive restrictions on abortion, led by ban in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy. Kentucky, Florida, Idaho and Arizona all have passed slightly more lenient curbs, allowing abortion until 15 weeks.
Oklahoma's total ban — outlawing all terminations except when the mother's life is in danger — would go into effect after the Supreme Court's final ruling.
Polling on abortion is split, generally showing around a quarter of Americans believe it should be legal in all cases and another quarter think it should be allowed in most.
A quarter believe abortion should be illegal in most cases, and a much smaller proportion — somewhere around 10 to 15 percent — believe it should be illegal in all cases.
A CNN poll in January found that 69 percent of respondents were against doing away with Roe while 30 percent were in favour.