(Washington, D.C.) — A draft opinion leaked on Monday indicated that a majority of Supreme Court justices are prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade. If issued, the decision would end the federal constitutional protection for the right to abortion, allowing states to decide its legality. While there is still a constitutionally protected right to have an abortion, the draft opinion signals that Roe v. Wade and decades of other Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing the right are in grave danger of being overturned by the Supreme Court’s super-majority of conservative justices.
In September 2021 the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and 16 other prominent civil rights organizations filed an amicus brief in the case under consideration in the leaked draft opinion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The civil rights groups argued that a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks will have a devastating impact on Black women and women with low incomes.
The following is a statement from Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“The Supreme Court has signaled its intention to upend nearly fifty years of legal precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade. This would be an utterly cataclysmic decision that, if issued, will endanger all of us, particularly Black women and women with low incomes. When abortion is banned, people in marginalized communities are forced to endure hardships that have a cascading impact on their health, economic well-being, and place in society. Abortion access is an economic and racial justice issue and a crucial part of civil rights. Reproductive freedom is not only a matter of bodily autonomy, but also one of self-determination. When people have the ability to decide if, when, and how many children to have, they are able to make conscious decisions about other aspects of their lives, including education and work.
“The potential implications of such a decision also threaten other parts of the civil rights agenda we have worked to advance for decades. By ignoring stare decisis—the legal principle that relies on previous rulings, the Court jeopardizes the guaranteed rights of millions of women and puts the footing of our entire civil rights jurisprudence on uncertain ground. It means that other rights, grounded in Roe’s recognition that the Bill of Rights guarantees marital, familial, and sexual privacy, are now subject to the judicial whims and scrutiny of this Court. A majority of justices now stand poised to pull on a thread that has the potential to unravel our entire democracy.
“Justice Alito’s draft opinion is also stunning because it partially grounds its justification in his interpretation of centuries-old legal norms from another country, dating back to the Middle Ages. Viewing due process rights in this way risks locking in the status quo of a time when women, Black people, and other marginalized groups had no power, no vote, and no voice. It could serve as continued justification to enshrine discrimination and discard progress by other historically oppressed groups.
“Despite the barriers we may face, the Lawyers’ Committee stands committed with our allies, ready to do all within our power to at the very least help codify the right to reproductive freedom into law. We will continue to advocate, agitate, and litigate until we build a society where freedom, equality, and equity are central to our laws. We urge lawmakers to do all they can to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to access abortions across the nation. The fight is not over, but just beginning.”
Due to inadequate state reproductive health policies, including restricted sex education and a lack of health insurance and meaningful access to contraception and other reproductive health services, Black women use abortion care at a disproportionate rate. In addition, studies consistently show that access to abortion is associated with educational and economic advancement, and the denial of that right can have severe financial consequences for the people affected.
In June of 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law advocated for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, an inclusive health care bill that would prohibit states from enacting medically unnecessary abortion restrictions and bans.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.