Shock, outrage and praise: Leaked Supreme Court abortion draft inflames Roe v. Wade debate, widens partisan divide

Key Points
  • A leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn a half-century of abortion rights triggered shock waves in Washington.
  • Democrats reacted with horror and fury, and called for Congress to immediately move to codify abortion rights through legislation.
  • Republicans expressed outrage about the leak itself, and some praised the draft opinion for putting decisions about abortion in the hands of states instead of the federal government.
Demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., early on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Ting Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn a half-century of abortion rights shocked lawmakers, sharpened political divisions and prompted calls to action after it leaked overnight.

The draft published by Politico indicates the conservative-leaning court is poised to toss out the precedent established by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two rulings that have enshrined abortion protections in America for decades.

The unprecedented leak triggered a wave of horror and fury from abortion-rights advocates and like-minded political leaders in Washington, most of whom are Democrats. Many of them called for Congress, held by thin Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, to immediately move to codify abortion rights through legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday morning that he intends to hold a vote to enshrine Roe's protections into law.

It's "not an abstract exercise. This is as urgent and real as it gets," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "The elections this November will have consequences, because the rights of 100 million women are on the ballot," he added.

Republicans' outrage, meanwhile, was focused on the leak itself. They lamented the damage that such an action could inflict on the high court's integrity, and many pushed for a full investigation into who was behind it.

Those GOP lawmakers who did comment praised the draft for putting decisions about abortion in the hands of states instead of the federal government.

Here are some of the reactions from prominent politicians and interest groups:

President Joe Biden

"I believe that a woman's right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.

"[...] 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.  At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"If the report is accurate, the Supreme Court is poised to inflict the greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years — not just on women but on all Americans.

"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.

"Several of these conservative Justices, who are in no way accountable to the American people, have lied to the U.S. Senate, ripped up the Constitution and defiled both precedent and the Supreme Court's reputation — all at the expense of tens of millions of women who could soon be stripped of their bodily autonomy and the constitutional rights they've relied on for half a century."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"Last night's stunning breach was an attack on the independence of the Supreme Court. By every indication, this was yet another escalation in the radical left's ongoing campaign to bully and intimidate federal judges and substitute mob rule for the rule of law.

"The disgraceful statements by President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer refuse to defend judicial independence and the rule of law and instead play into this toxic spectacle. Real leaders should defend the Court's independence unconditionally.

"This lawless action should be investigated and punished as fully as possible. The Chief Justice must get to the bottom of it and the Department of Justice 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."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has voiced support for abortion rights and voted to confirm conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Her pivotal vote for Kavanaugh came after she said he assured her that he considered Roe "settled law."

"If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won't know each Justice's decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case."

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee

"The Supreme Court's confidential deliberation process is sacred & protects it from political interference. This breach shows that radical Democrats are working even harder to intimidate & undermine the Court. It was always their plan. The justices cannot be swayed by this attack."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

"Congress must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country NOW. And if there aren't 60 votes in the Senate to do it, and there are not, we must end the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

"An extremist Supreme Court is poised to overturn #RoeVWade and impose its far-right, unpopular views on the entire country. It's time for the millions who support the Constitution and abortion rights to stand up and make their voices heard. We're not going back — not ever."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"After ringing these alarms, for years now: it's time to break the glass. It's time for every single person — in every single state — to realize this impacts you, your choices, your rights. It's not happening to someone else, in some other state — it's happening everywhere, and the highest court in the land is preparing to rip away your rights at this very moment. We need to fight back with everything we've got right now. The right to abortion is on the line, and I'll never stop fighting to protect it."

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

"The Supreme Court & the DOJ must get to the bottom of this leak immediately using every investigative tool necessary. In the meantime, Roe was egregiously wrong from the beginning & I pray the Court follows the Constitution & allows the states to once again protect unborn life."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

"As we've warned, SCOTUS isn't just coming for abortion — they're coming for the right to privacy Roe rests on, which includes gay marriage + civil rights. [Democratic Sen. Joe] Manchin is blocking Congress codifying Roe. House has seemingly forgotten about Clarence Thomas. These 2 points must change"

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah

"If the leaked draft opinion reflects the final outcome, it is a decision I support. The sanctity of human life is a foundational American principle. Laws regarding abortion would now be returned to the people and their elected representatives.

"The breach of the Court's deliberative process, however, is an appalling affront against a critical institution and should be fully investigated and those responsible should be punished."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

"I will say, if this is the Court's opinion, it's a heck of an opinion. Voluminously researched, tightly argued, and morally powerful"

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero

"If the Supreme Court does indeed issue a majority opinion along the lines of the leaked draft authored by Justice [Samuel] Alito, the shift in the tectonic plates of abortion rights will be as significant as any opinion the Court has ever issued [...] The breach in protocol at the Court pales in comparison to the breach in constitutional freedoms that the Court is charged with upholding."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, which backs anti-abortion candidates

"If the draft opinion made public tonight is the final opinion of the court, we wholeheartedly applaud the decision. The American people have the right to act through their elected officials to debate and enact laws that protect unborn children and honor women.

"If Roe is indeed overturned, our job will be to build consensus for the strongest protections possible for unborn children and women in every legislature."

Former President Barack and former first lady Michelle Obama

"Today, millions of Americans woke up fearing that their essential freedoms under the Constitution were at risk.

"If the Supreme Court ultimately decides to overturn the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, then it will not only reverse nearly 50 years of precedent — it will relegate the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues."

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

"This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights, & lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law. It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace."