Pro-lifers: Roe’s not over till it’s over
Leaked Supreme Court draft opinion brings back memories of past disappointments—but still gives reason to hope
Sharon Rodi was standing in the Louisiana Right to Life offices next to staff member T.J Burgess during a Monday evening meeting when a notification appeared on his phone. After taking a few moments to process the information, Burgess showed it to Rodi, and the two of them looked at each other in amazement. Politico had released a leaked draft of the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, and it called for a reversal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a legal right to abortion nationwide.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said Rodi the next day. She has been involved in pro-life work since the Roe decision first came down in 1973—working with local pregnancy centers and her state’s Right to Life group. A decision overturning Roe would be an encouragement after years of hard work. But as she drove home from the meeting, her excitement waned. “This should not have happened,” she thought.
The draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, calls for overturning Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, rulings that have inhibited state efforts to protect unborn babies from abortions for decades. The leaked opinion also points out the lack of a constitutional basis for a right to abortion. According to the Politico article, four justices in a conference after December’s oral arguments in the case voted with Alito. Although justices can change their votes between the conference and the release of the final majority opinion, the Politico article said no votes had changed as of this week, according to a court insider.
Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the draft opinion and called the leak a “betrayal of the confidences of the Court.” Roberts has called for an investigation by the marshal of the court to find the source of the leak.
While many pro-lifers like Rodi find the language of the draft opinion encouraging, they’re also discouraged by the circumstances of its release. For some, the excitement of the possibly favorable ruling brings back memories of when pro-lifers have had high hopes in the past only to see them dashed.
Tom Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, took out the trash on Monday night just before he planned to go to bed. When he walked back into the house, he heard his wife calling from upstairs, saying something about a leaked draft of the Dobbs opinion. His first reaction was anger. In his mind, a leak like this could challenge the integrity and legitimacy of the court. “It’s an outrage,” he said.
Glessner thinks it is likely that someone, maybe a law clerk, leaked the draft in a “move of last desperation to try to stop it.” If a majority of justices on the court voted to overturn Roe in December, perhaps none of them have changed their votes, and this is an effort to make that happen.
Even though the actual language of the opinion matched his hopes and expectations from the court on the Dobbs case, Glessner felt it was far too early to celebrate: “Whatever happens in conference when the court votes, it is one step in the process. It doesn’t guarantee the end result.” He thought of the Casey decision. In conference, the court voted 5-4 to overturn Roe, but Justice Anthony Kennedy later changed his vote, resulting in the 5-4 decision affirming the core holding of Roe that women have a right to abort their unborn babies before they can live outside the womb.
Leading up to that decision, Glessner and other pro-lifers were so optimistic that the Casey majority opinion would mean the end of Roe that they had already begun preparing media statements and meeting with attorneys in preparation for a post-Roe America. The day the decision came down, he was seated in the front row of the courtroom so he could tell his grandchildren someday that he was in there the day the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe. When he heard the ruling, he felt a “horrible disappointment.”
Living through that, Glessner said, has kept him cautious. “I’ve seen this movie before and I didn’t like the ending the first time around,” he said. “Hopefully the sequel has a better ending.”
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