US president Joe Biden called on the Supreme Court to uphold the landmark Roe vs Wade abortion rights ruling following the leak of a draft opinion that would overturn it, which the court’s chief justice condemned as a “betrayal” and insisted was not indicative of its final decision.
“I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental,” Biden said on Tuesday, following the publication of a document by Politico showing that the court’s conservative majority was poised to unwind Roe vs Wade.
“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,” he added.
Later on Tuesday, the Supreme Court confirmed the draft’s authenticity, but said it did not represent the “final position” of any of its members.
“To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. “The work of the court will not be affected in any way.”
Biden’s comments came after the leaked draft propelled the fight over abortion rights back to the top of the political agenda, with six months to go before November’s midterm elections.
A decision to drastically roll back abortion protections would also have huge social and economic implications for women’s ability to access healthcare and participate in the workforce.
Biden insisted that his administration had always argued in favour of preserving the abortion rights established by the 1973 precedent.
“If the court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose. And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November,” he said, nodding to the importance of the November midterm elections.
Chief Justice Roberts said he had directed the court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak. “This was a singular and egregious breach of [the court’s] trust that is an affront to the court and the community of public servants who work here,” he said.
Biden’s statement was the latest in a string of condemnations of the draft ruling from Democrats and organisations dedicated to the preservation of abortion rights in the US. The Supreme Court’s final decision, expected as early as June, could change compared with the draft, which was dated February 10.
However, the document revealed by Politico on Monday did show the court’s conservative majority, led by Justice Samuel Alito, moving to strike down Roe vs Wade entirely rather than issue a narrower ruling allowing Mississippi to go ahead with its law restricting abortion after 15 weeks.
The breadth of the draft opinion has triggered outrage among Democrats, who have long feared the highest US court was heading in a more conservative direction after former US president Donald Trump appointed three justices to the bench. Those came on top of three appointees from previous Republican administrations, with just three justices tapped by Democrats.
“The Republican-appointed justices’ reported votes to overturn Roe vs Wade would go down as an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history,” said Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
However, it would represent a huge win for conservative Republicans who have long sought to overturn Roe vs Wade. “If the leaked opinion is accurate, then today is a landmark day for the sanctity of human life in our country. I am 100 per cent pro-life and pray it is true that the Supreme Court will follow through and save countless lives,” said Mike Braun, a Republican senator from Indiana.
Additional reporting by Stefania Palma in Washington