The Supreme Court appears to be on the cusp of ending its 49-year-old legal precedent that protects abortion rights nationwide if the majority signs on to a draft opinion obtained and published by Politico on Monday.
The revelation of the draft opinion does not have an immediate effect on abortion access. If the apparent majority willing to overturn Roe v. Wade stays firm, the precedent would not be overturned until the formal release of the court’s ruling, which is likely to come in June.
But the ruling previewed in the draft authored by Justice Samuel Alito would upend abortion access by giving states the ability to decide how aggressively to restrict access to the procedure. Here’s what to know.
What is the draft opinion?
Politico obtained and published what it described as a draft Supreme Court majority opinion striking down Roe v. Wade. It was written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito and circulated among the justices in February.
Notably, the opinion is a draft and the court’s votes are not final until the formal opinions are officially released. Drafts are often amended and changed based on the input of the other justices. In some instances, justices have switched sides before an opinion is issued, such as when Chief Justice John Roberts flipped and saved Obamacare in 2012.
The opinion in the case in question, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is a challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The state had asked the justices to use the case to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling – and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling upholding Roe – that together guarantee a right to an abortion before a fetus is viable.
What does the draft mean immediately for abortion rights?
Until a final opinion is released, Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land. Justices can, and have in the past, changed their votes after initial draft opinions are circulated.
But the revelation of where the court is likely headed will undoubtedly supercharge what have been contentious fights in state legislatures over how to prepare for a ruling that overturns Roe and put abortion at the forefront of the national political discourse as the country awaits the final ruling.
What does the draft signal about where the court is going on Roe?
The draft signals that there were at least five votes for overturning Roe when the justices privately convened after the case’s oral arguments, which were held in December.
Under normal procedures, by the end of that week, the justices would have met in their private conference to take a preliminary vote on the issue.