The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. | Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

A “full-throated, unflinching repudiation,” of Roe v. Wade detailed in a memo from the U.S. Supreme Court leaked to national political magazine POLITICO has South Carolina leaders and women’s health clinics reeling. 

The memo, confirmed as valid by Chief Justice Glover Roberts, says that justices have already voted to overturn the 1973 decision which guaranteed federal protections of abortion rights and a subsequent 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — which maintained the decision. The 2022 Supreme Court decision would return the control of reproductive rights to state leaders.

Justice Samuel Alito writes in the leaked memo, labeled as the Opinion of the Court: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled.” 

“​​This is our wake-up call,” said S.C. Rep. Spencer Wetmore, D-Charleston. “Register to vote. Tell your friends. Support candidates that support women. State and local elections matter now more than ever.”

More than just abortion

But with reproductive rights being a particularly contentious topic in the last decade, especially in southern and midwestern states, the decision could lead to political turmoil, and unintended consequences some say. 

“It would deal a devastating blow to reproductive rights and Americans’ fundamental freedom to make their own decisions about their health care and families,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison. “For decades, the Supreme Court has upheld precedent and protected access to safe, legal abortions, as well as the privacy of a decision made between women and their doctor.”

Harrison alludes to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade which has been used to protect, among other things, Americans’ right to medical privacy, a protection not guaranteed in the U.S. constitution — saying such protections are now at risk.  Meanwhile, Alito writes, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

The decision would fall as 26 states are poised to move swiftly to ban abortions, according to a statement from national women’s health organization Planned Parenthood. This would leave 36 million women of reproductive age, and others who can become pregnant, without access to reproductive health care, the organization said. 

“This leaked opinion is horrifying and unprecedented, and it confirms our worst fears: that the Supreme Court is prepared to end the constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson. “While we have seen the writing on the wall for decades, it is no less devastating, and comes just as anti-abortion rights groups unveil their ultimate plan to ban abortion nationwide.”

Political turmoil sure to follow

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a statement today on the news, expressing: “it’s a sad day for the Supreme Court and a dangerous day for the rule of law.” Though his expression of dismay stems, not from the pending ruling, but from the leak itself, which he calls “a radical assault on our institutions.”

“For over two hundred years, the Supreme Court has been able to deliberate and build consensus without its decisions being compromised in this manner,” he said. “This has been forever changed by this leak.”

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, agreed.

“What would otherwise be a great day for our country for the lives of the unborn has now been marred by an unprecedented and politically motivated leak, obviously intended to intimidate our Supreme Court Justices,” she said in a statement. 

Without proof, Graham went on to blame the leak on “the radical left,” who he said is determined to change the “conservative nature” of the U.S. Supreme Court and bring about a federal takeover of the state election systems.

National polls have shown, however, that reproductive rights remain a bipartisan issue. Three-quarters of Americans said they wanted to keep Roe v. Wade in place according to a joint poll by National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour and Marist Poll.

“Due to extremist Republicans and conservative justices on the Supreme Court, women could lose access to the health care they need and that the overwhelming majority of Americans support,” Harrison said.

Some political figures have said this decision, coming right before midterm elections, could serve to energize Democratic voters and swing even the upcoming national election away from predictions of a Republican blowout. 

“Make no mistake: reproductive rights will be on the ballot, and this midterm election is more important now than ever before,” Harrison said. “Voters will make their voices heard, we will fight back with everything we have, and Republicans will have to answer for their party’s relentless attacks on Americans’ rights.”

Final decision still to come

South Carolina women’s advocacy nonprofit Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN) released a statement reminding South Carolinians that for now, abortion is still legal in the Palmetto State and compiling resources for those in need of help.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its official decision anytime between now and late June.


Help the City Paper keep delivering excellence

Winner of top 2021 state journalism honors (best editorial writing and best cartoon), the Charleston City Paper brings you the Best of Charleston every day. Support our “unafraid” journalism with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.