The head of the Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of a leaked draft that has fuelled speculation the court is poised to strike down the right to abortion in the United States, in a staggering blow to women's rights.
The draft opinion, obtained by Politico, was written by Justice Samuel Alito and has been circulated inside the conservative-dominated court, the news outlet reported.
It calls the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision enshrining the right to abortion “egregiously wrong from the start.”
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Alito writes in the document, labeled as the “Opinion of the Court” and published on Politico’s website. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed its authenticity on Tuesday, though adding that the draft opinion is not the court's final decision. He also ordered an investigation into the source of the leak.
"To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the court will not be affected in any way," Roberts said.
Reproductive rights have been increasingly under threat in the United States in recent months as states have moved to tighten restrictions.
Right-wing politicians have launched an assault on abortion, with Democrats fighting back to protect access to the procedure.
Biden vows to protect 'fundamental' right
President Joe Biden has made clear his administration is ready to protect abortion rights once a final Supreme Court ruling is issued.
On Tuesday he called women's right to choose "fundamental" and urged voters to elect candidates who support that right in order to pave the way for Congress to pass legislation protecting access to the procedure nationwide.
In December, hearing oral arguments about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared inclined to not only uphold the law but to toss out Roe v. Wade.
The nine-member court, dominated by conservatives following the nomination of three justices by former president Donald Trump, is expected to issue a decision in the Mississippi case by June.
Politico stressed that the document it obtained is a draft and opinions could change until then.
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research group, has said that 26 states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the Roe is overturned.