The US Supreme Court looks set to vote to overturn the Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion across the nation, according to a leaked initial draft majority opinion published by Politico.
The unprecedented leak from the conservative-majority Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the United States, not least because the court prides itself on keeping its internal deliberations secret.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the authenticity of the draft. The Supreme Court and the White House declined to comment.
"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft opinion which is dated February 10, according to Politico, whihc posted a copy online.
Based on Alito's opinion, the court would find the Roe v Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a fetus would be viable outside the womb - between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy - was wrongly decided because the US Constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights.
"Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion," Alito said, according to the leaked document.
The news broke little more than six months before the mid-term elections that will determine if Democrats retain their razor-thin majority in the US Congress for the next two years of President Joe Biden's term in office.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in US politics and has been for nearly half a century.
"This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights and lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law," former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
"It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace."
Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote on Twitter: "Roe was egregiously wrong from the beginning & I pray the Court follows the Constitution & allows the states to once again protect unborn life".
Four of the other Republican-appointed justices - Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett - voted with Alito in the conference held among the justices, the report said.
After an initial vote among the justices following the oral argument, one is assigned the majority opinion and writes a draft. That draft is then circulated among the justices.
At times, in between the initial vote and the ruling being released, the vote alignment can change.
A ruling is only final when it is published by the court.
In a post on Twitter, Neal Katyal, a lawyer who regularly argues before the court, said if the report was accurate it would be "the first major leak from the Supreme Court ever".
The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, heard oral arguments in December on Mississippi's bid to revive its ban on abortion starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law blocked by lower courts.
The 1973 Roe v Wade decision recognised the right to personal privacy under the US Constitution protects a woman's ability to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
Christian conservatives and many Republican politicians have long sought to overturn it.
The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey reaffirmed abortion rights and prohibited laws imposing an "undue burden" on abortion access.
Mississippi asked the justices to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings and Alito's draft opinion largely adopts the Republican state's arguments.
If Roe is overturned, abortion is likely to remain legal in liberal states.
More than a dozen states currently have laws protecting abortion rights.
Numerous Republican-led states have passed various abortion restrictions in defiance of the Roe precedent in recent years.
Republicans could try to enact a nationwide abortion ban, while Democrats could seek to protect abortion rights at the national level.
Australian Associated Press
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