A leaked leaked document suggests the US Supreme Court may soon vote to overturn a landmark ruling that gives Americans the constitutional right to abortion.
The US Supreme Court is set to decide by the end of June on Mississippi’s attempt to ban most terminations after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But in a move unprecedented in the modern history of the Supreme Court, a secret draft decision written by a judge was leaked to American media outlets.
The document, published by Politico, suggests that five of the nine judges on the bench privately voted to overturn the 49-year-old ruling, which makes abortion legal at the national level.
So what does this mean for America?
Here’s everything we know.
First of all, what is Rowe Weed?
The right to have an abortion in the United States comes from a landmark court ruling in the 1970s.
A Texan mother going by the pseudonym “Jane Roe” sued for the right to terminate a pregnancy in 1970.
After years of legal challenges and appeals supported by the American women’s rights movement, her case was finally heard by the Supreme Court.
Judges ruled in 1973 by a 7-2 majority that the Texas law was unconstitutional.
She said that while there is no mention of abortion in the US Constitution, the right to privacy was implied and should extend to an individual’s reproductive decisions.
For half a century, that court decision has prevented all 50 states from banning abortion access outright.
But the ruling left some hassle for the states.
“We…conclude that the right to personal privacy includes a decision to an abortion, but this right is not inalienable and should be considered against significant state interests in regulation,” Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote.
This qualification for his ruling means that now access to abortion in America varies from state to state.
California, for example, is a politically progressive state that claims to offer the easiest access to procedure in the United States.
But Texas, a politically conservative state, prohibits terminations longer than six weeks into a pregnancy.
Why is the Mississippi case important?
This year, the US Supreme Court is considering a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The case is challenging a law that was passed in the US state of Mississippi in 2018, banning abortions after 15 weeks.
Opponents say it violates rights established by Roe v Wade, which does not cut off access to abortion until a fetus is viable at 24 weeks.
The decision is not expected to be announced before the current court session ends in June.
Supporters of abortion rights warned that the case would be important as conservative judges hold a 6-3 super-majority in the US Supreme Court.
Judges with a more progressive view of US constitutional law used to have a lower majority on the court, but when Donald Trump became president in 2017, he was able to elect three new judges.
Mr Trump was open about his hopes that the court would one day overturn Roe v Wade.
So what exactly is in the leaked document?
Politico says that in February of this year, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a draft of the majority opinion on the Mississippi abortion case.
There was a bomb blast in it.
“Roe was seriously wrong from the start,” Justice Alito wrote.
“It is time to pay attention to the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people.”
Politico’s editors stressed that its story has gone through an extensive review process and believes the document is authentic.
SCOTUSblog, which the court closely monitors, also believes the draft is genuine.
It is important to note that the document is a draft that reflects the opinion of Justice Alito only.
Politico is reporting four other judges on the bench — Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Connie Barrett — have voted in their favor.
But in the three months after the draft was circulated around the court, some people have changed their mind or suggested amendments.
The source of the leak is unknown.
But documenting the media weeks before the decision is made public may be a last-ditch effort to pressure some judges to switch sides.
What if they actually beat Roe v Wade?
If some judges change their mind by June, there’s a chance Rowe v Wade will survive.
But if some or no amendments are made to Justice Alito’s draft and it becomes the majority opinion, the impact on abortion access in America will be swift and dramatic.
More than 20 states already have laws or constitutional amendments to make up for this possibility.
If Roe v Wade is reversed, some states have what is called a “trigger ban”, so that abortion becomes immediately illegal in almost every situation.
Among them is Arkansas, which would have an almost complete ban on abortion.
Kentucky, Louisiana and South Carolina will ban terminations at six weeks into pregnancy.
Proponents of abortion access say the procedure will only be accessible to people who can travel to states where it is legal.
They say those who can’t afford it will be forced to give birth or even seek an abortion in a dangerous, back alley.
What are people saying about the leak?
While support for abortion varies from state to state, national polling has consistently shown for many years that the majority of Americans believe the procedure should be legal.
A poll at the end of 2021 found that 59 percent of American adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39 percent believe it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Democratic New York Governor Cathy Hochul responded to Politico’s leaks and promised that her state would always provide the process.
“This is a very shameful attack on our fundamental right to choose and we will fight whatever we have,” he said.
“Let me be loud and clear: New York will always guarantee your right to an abortion. You have our word.”
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas welcomed the prospect of Roe-America.
“The Supreme Court… should get to the bottom of this leak using every necessary investigative tool,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Roe was seriously wrong from the start and I pray that the court upholds the Constitution and allows the states to once again protect the life of the unborn.”