A woman's right to choose an abortion is "fundamental", US president Joe Biden has said amid reports that the supreme court in Washington is poised to overturn a landmark precedent that legalised terminations across the country 50 years ago.
Mr Biden said that “basic fairness” demanded that access to abortion services across the country under the Roe v Wade ruling should be maintained. He also urged voters to elect more pro-choice politicians to the US Congress, and called for them to legislate for abortion rights at a national level.
The future of abortion rights in the US has been thrown into serious doubt following the leak of the draft legal opinion on Monday night which indicated that the supreme court was set to strike down the landmark court ruling from 1973.
The US supreme court heard arguments late last year in a case which centred on restrictions to abortion rights introduced in Mississippi. A ruling is expected next month or in early July.
However, the US news organisation Politico published a draft opinion drawn up within the supreme court in February which indicated that a majority of its nine members had voted to overturn Roe v Wade.
The 90-page draft opinion drawn up by conservative supreme court justice Samuel Alito said: "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start."
The leaked draft opinion said it was time “to heed the constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives”.
‘Breach of trust’
The supreme court on Tuesday confirmed that the draft opinion was accurate but that it did not represent “the final position of any member”.
US chief justice John Roberts said the leak represented "an "egregious breach" of trust and that he had ordered an investigation into how the document had been given to Politico.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Biden said: “I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, 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 said that at the federal level, “we will need more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House [of Representatives] to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law”.
The 1973 Roe v Wade decision and a later second case from 1992, Planned Parenthood v Casey, established a constitutional right to an abortion in the US until about 24 weeks into a pregnancy, or when the foetus was viable outside the womb.
There is no federal law protecting or prohibiting abortion. If the supreme court was to strike down Roe v Wade, it would be up to individual states to determine their own abortion laws.
However, some Republican politicians have reportedly been discussing a possible de facto legal ban on abortion nationwide if they were returned to power.
Conservative groups welcomed the draft opinion while Democrats strongly criticised it. Many Republicans focused on the leak rather than the implications of what the opinion would mean if it became the final view of the court.
The two highest ranking Democrats in the US congress, senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and house speaker Nancy Pelosi, said: "The Republican-appointed justices' reported votes to overturn 'Roe v Wade' would go down as an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called for an investigation into the leak which he described as a "lawless action" and said the US authorities must pursue criminal charges if applicable.
“All nine justices should tune out the bad-faith noise and feel totally free to do their jobs, following the facts and the law where they lead,” Mr McConnell said.
Republican senator Josh Hawley said: "If this is the court's opinion, it's a heck of an opinion. Voluminously researched, tightly argued, and morally powerful."
Former US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the draft opinion represented "a direct assault on the dignity, rights, and lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law".