The landmark Roe v. Wade ruling could be overturned in the coming months, according to a draft of the order published Monday by Politico. The 1973 ruling legalized abortion in the United States.
Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the leaked document was authentic Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. The opinion, if issued by a majority of the court, would leave decisions about legal abortions to Congress and state legislatures.
With midterm elections on the horizon, abortion will be a central issue in North Carolina, for candidates if not for voters. Every seat in the state House and Senate is up for election this year.
“We have always known that Roe v. Wade would be attacked, but this is the first time in recent history that abortion rights are in jeopardy,” said state Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat.
Many North Carolina Republicans, including senate candidates Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory, criticized the leak of the draft opinion.
“This unprecedented leak was wrong and damages the Supreme Court. I continue to pray that the justices reach a decision that upholds the sanctity of life and guarantees the right to life for innocent unborn children,” Budd said.
If the court overrules Roe v. Wade, there could quickly be abortion bans in about half the states, the AP reports. Some states, like Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee, have “trigger laws” that would would ban abortion as soon at the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Other states have laws already in place that could be enforced if the court tosses out Roe.
North Carolina does not have a “trigger law,” but the potential for overruling Roe would leave it to either Congress to pass a federal law on abortion or the North Carolina General Assembly to legislate abortion.
If the Supreme Court does overrule Roe, “Abortion access is going to be even more determined by the states,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. “So if the Republicans get back supermajority control, it’s probably game over for abortion rights in North Carolina for at least another decade.”
“At this point no one can argue abortion is settled law, and I expect it to rise in the minds of campaigns and voters,” he said.
A new poll from Meredith College found just over half, 52.6%, of voters “want North Carolina to pass a law keeping the current provisions of Roe or expanding abortion access further.”
“Just under 40% of respondents want a law that severely restricts access to abortion or makes it illegal in all circumstances,” according to Meredith College.
N.C. State University political scientist Andrew Taylor cautioned against oversimplifying voter opinions on abortion.
“We overestimate the number of people who have simplistic views about it,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people who are pretty conflicted about abortion.”
It could bring more Democrats out to the polls come November, Taylor said. Typically abortion is not ranked among the most pressing concerns for voters, he said.
“Without the abortion decision, it was going to be a really good year for Republicans,” he said. GOP candidates for national and state offices would rather focus on the economy, inflation, immigration and other issues they can attack President Joe Biden and the Democrats with.
Taylor said about 10% of the seats in the legislature will be competitive races between Republicans and Democrats in November. After a months-long fight in the courts over redistricting, the General Assembly will likely have an almost even split between Republicans and Democrats, he said.
Based on the new maps, it’s unlikely that Republicans would be able to regain their supermajority that could override the Democratic governor’s veto on any new laws restricting abortion.
Almost all Republicans running for seats in Congress and the General Assembly say they oppose abortion. Democrats have somewhat more diverse opinions on abortion, but most support abortion rights.
“To be clear, if we do not elect pro-choice Democrats in November, North Carolina will be the next Texas, passing extreme legislation that will roll back reproductive rights, justice and abortion access,” Murdoch said.
“The battle for abortion rights will end with the states. We now know that we cannot depend on the Supreme Court to have our backs, it’s up to us,” she said.
The Supreme Court order published by Politico Monday is only a draft, though it does appear a majority of the court signed onto the ruling. It’s not clear what the final order could say, but it will likely be released by the court sometime in the next month or two.