Nearly a half-century after the landmark decision on Roe v. Wade, which protected constitutional abortion rights, the U.S. Supreme Court, with a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices, appears poised to overturn that 1973 ruling.
According to Politico reporting on Monday evening, Justice Samuel Alito has drafted a majority opinion that says “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” The draft opinion had been circulated inside the court and leaked to Politico.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” the justice wrote, appearing to want to make federal abortion rights a states’ rights issue.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court confirmed the draft opinion was authentic but added that it did not represent a final opinion of the court.
“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,” Chief Justice John Robert said in a statement announcing an investigation into the leak.
The high court’s draft opinion, which would strike down Roe, caused Utah politicians to begin reacting to the news and led to a large protest at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday evening.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall attended the protest and addressed about 1,000 supporters of reproductive rights from the Capitol steps.
“I’m sad and I’m angry, but most of all I’m worried for the women of Salt Lake City and Utah who may soon have to leave the state to get a safe abortion,” the Democratic mayor wrote on Twitter Tuesday night. “But, I’m proud to stand alongside the entire Salt Lake City Council to say we stand with women everywhere for our reproductive rights!”
Utah Republicans, including both Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, said they would support the Supreme Court tossing out the Roe decision
“The Supreme Court is not like other branches of government; it is not a political body,” Lee tweeted on Monday, before going on to attack the Supreme Court leak as “dangerous, despicable, and damaging.”
“I hope and pray,” the Republican senator added, “that what appears to be Justice Alito’s well-written and well-reasoned draft in fact reflects the majority view of the Court.”
On Fox News Monday night, Lee, who clerked for Alito before the justice was appointed to the Supreme Court, called news of the leak “bittersweet.” Sweet, Lee told Fox News, because “babies” would be protected by the law, and bitter “because the way this was leaked.”
“I’m saddened by the fact that his (Alito’s) work was released without authorization prior to its time of release, specifically for the purpose of threatening, intimidating and harassing those justices inclined to go along with what appears is the majority opinion.”
Last summer, Lee joined Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas in sending a “friend of the court” brief to the Supreme Court, pressing the body to reconsider national abortion rights.
Ally Isom, one of two Republicans trying to unseat Lee in a primary, said the leaked opinion shows the landscape appears to be shifting.
“While this is a complicated issue for women, and there are exceptions,” Isom wrote on Twitter, “I choose to err on the side of life and states.”
Republican Becky Edwards, also running against Lee in the primary, told The Salt Lake Tribune that overturning Roe v. Wade would result in abortion becoming a states’ rights issue.
“At that point, both voters and representatives need to work together to ensure that this complex issue is handled with dignity, compassion and care,” Edward said. “I respect the law of the land and the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.”
Evan McMullin, an independent U.S. Senate candidate who will face the Utah GOP’s challenger this November, said he is opposed to “extreme laws” in states like Utah that will be enacted if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe.
“As a pro-life Utahn, I’m concerned that the never-ending tug-of-war over abortion laws threatens to create a public health crisis and further divide the nation without solving anything,” McMullin said in a Tuesday statement.
Romney said he supports the Supreme Court’s decision if the leaked draft actually reflects the opinion.
“The sanctity of human life is a foundational American principle,” Romney, also a Republican, wrote on Twitter. He added that the leak “should be fully investigated and those responsible should be punished.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said in a joint statement that although they “are encouraged and optimistic at the possibility that abortion law will be left to the duly elected representatives of the states, draft rulings are not actual rulings and leaked drafts are a dangerous violation of the court protocol and deliberations.”
In 2020, the Utah Legislature passed SB174, a trigger law that would ban elective abortions in Utah in the event that Roe is overturned.
“We anxiously await the court’s actual ruling in this case,” Henderson and Cox tweeted.
Utah Senate President Stuart Adams wrote on social media that “life is worth protecting.”
“I am glad the Supreme Court is finally addressing this long overdue issue and honoring the right of states to regulate abortion,” Adams, R-Layton, added. “While the report is preliminary, I am hopeful that with the official ruling, lives will be protected.”
Salt Lake City Democrat Rep. Angela Romero said overturning Roe would put all women at risk.
“Sadly, if this decision stands, Utah is one state where abortion services will be forced to move underground. Banning abortions won’t stop people from seeking them. Thousands of women will jeopardize their lives, and many will face devastating and lasting consequences for themselves and their families,” Romero wrote in a statement. “In Utah, nearly half of the people who have abortions are already parents.”
“The decision about whether, when and how to become a parent is among the most important life decisions we make. No court, no politician should ever stand in the way of this basic freedom,” she added.
Derek Kitchen, one of six Democrats in the Utah Senate, called the idea of striking down Roe “a terrible setback for all Americans.”
“No universal healthcare. No affordable childcare,” the Salt Lake City Democrat tweeted. “Now, no reproductive freedom. Our fundamental liberties are under assault.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement Tuesday that his stance on abortion remains unchanged.
“Prosecutors have an ethical responsibility to not use their office to knowingly violate someone’s constitutional rights nor intrude on individual freedoms”, Gill, a Democrat, said, adding that medical professionals in Utah still have a “legal and ethical imperative” to provide pregnancy-related health care.
“To be clear, reproductive choice is still the law in Utah,” Gill said.