Overturning Roe v Wade would have major legal, social, political consequences

Liberals fear such a move could lead to more than abortion rights being rolled back

By the early hours of Tuesday morning, just a short time after the stunning and unprecedented leak that the US supreme court was set to overturn existing abortion rights, there were several hundred people out on the streets of Washington.

Both anti-abortion and pro-choice groups headed for the supreme court – an indication that all sides realised that the US was potentially on the cusp of a moment that would have enormous legal, social and political implications.

If the draft opinion obtained by the news organisation Politico represents the final version of the court's finding then it would mean that the guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights, dating back to the landmark "Roe V Wade" ruling in 1973, would be swept away.

However, among liberals there are fears that a ruling along the lines of the draft opinion could pave the way for not just abortion but also other existing social rights, that are not specifically set out in the constitution, to be rolled back also.

Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez warned that the Roe V Wade ruling rested on the principle of the right to privacy. If this legal basis was undermined, she contended, there would also be implications for other rights.

“SCOTUS [the supreme court of the US] isn’t just coming for abortion – they’re coming for the right to privacy Roe rests on, which includes gay marriage + civil rights,” she tweeted.

Later on Tuesday, president Joe Biden seemed to argue along the same lines. He maintained if the draft was confirmed it would represent a “fundamental shift in American jurisprudence” that threatened “other basic rights” such as access to birth control and marriage.

He said if the rationale in the draft opinion was sustained, a “whole range of rights are in question.

“Does this mean that in Florida they can decide they’re going to pass a law saying that same-sex marriage is not permissible, that it’s against the law in Florida?” he asked.

The draft opinion author argued it dealt only with abortion and not other rights. However, some legal experts maintained that it was not clear as to the potential impact on other rights in the future.

Essentially the draft opinion said that it should be up to politicians to make decisions in relation to abortion rights.

Pro-choice organisations have argued that more than 20 states may introduce various forms of restrictions on abortion if Roe v Wade is struck down.

Some states have already put in place what are known as “trigger laws” which would come into effect immediately after any supreme court ruling to erode or remove the federal constitution’s protections which were set out in the 1973 ruling.

Some conservative groups and politicians are understood to have been discussing the potential of what could be close to a nationwide ban on abortion across the US – a prohibition on terminations after six weeks – if Republicans took back power.

The document published by Politico on Monday represents the first leak of a supreme court draft opinion relating to a case which is officially still undecided.

The full court ruling is not expected until June or early July.

However, if the draft opinion is confirmed, it would represent what conservative groups and anti-abortion activists have been seeking for decades.

They considered that changing the complexion of the court and finding an appropriate case to have brought before it could open the door to overturning Roe v Wade and the constitutional right to abortion.

By chance and as a result of political manoeuvring by Republicans, Donald Trump as president had three opportunities to fill vacancies on the nine-member court. His appointments tilted the balance to provide a decisive conservative majority.

The political fallout from an overturning of Roe v Wade remains to be seen as the US prepares for key elections to Congress in November.

Democrats hope that the threat to termination services will galvanise their supporters to turn out and vote while Republicans aim to show conservatives that they have delivered on their promises to fight against abortion.