PORTLAND, Maine — A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday.
A decision to overrule Roe v. Wade would lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states and could have huge ramifications for this year's elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the leaked draft opinion. He ordered an investigation into what he called an “egregious breach of trust.”
In the high court’s first public comment since the draft was published late Tuesday, Roberts said, “Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
Many Maine political groups and elected officials have reacted to the report, including Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who voted to confirm conservative justices Neil Gorsuch (2017) and Brett Kavanaugh (2018) to the high court. Both were nominated by former Republican President Donald Trump.
Collins mentioned Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in her statement Tuesday.
“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office," Collins said. "Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who voted against the confirmations of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, said a potential ruling that ends abortion protections "would be appalling."
"The decision being considered in this preliminary draft would eliminate a longstanding fundamental right supported by 64 percent of Maine people and 70 percent of Americans in one fell swoop," King said in a statement Tuesday. "The result: millions of women would be robbed of the right to make vital, lifesaving healthcare decisions with the support of medical professionals."
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said she is prepared to fight for women's reproductive rights, regardless of who or what may be threatening those rights.
“Well, I want to be very clear. Unlike an apparent majority of the Supreme Court, I do not consider the rights of women to be dispensable," Mills said in a statement Monday night. "And I pledge that as long as I am governor, I will fight with everything I have to protect reproductive rights and to preserve access to reproductive health care in the face of every and any threat to it, whether from politicians in Augusta or Supreme Court Justices in Washington.”
Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who is challenging Mills in the 2023 gubernatorial race, also issued a statement Tuesday in response to the report.
“As the child of a severely dysfunctional family, with domestic abuse that left me homeless, I know my mother faced difficult decisions, and I am glad she chose life," LePage said in his statement.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote on Twitter that the Politico report, if true, is "devastating."
"The government shouldn't be able to tell anyone what to do with their own bodies," she added in a statement issued Tuesday.
“I share the feelings of outrage, fear, and utter shock that millions of women across the country are experiencing right now," Pingree said. "If this draft Supreme Court opinion is genuine and Roe v. Wade is overturned, a deeply partisan court will be undoing nearly 50 years of an established right to body autonomy."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden said the leaked draft is concerning but his statement was reserved in tone.
"There is still a lot we don't know, including how many judges agree with the leaked opinion," Golden said in a statement.
"As an elected official, I have consistently held and openly shared my pro-choice position with regard to abortion and women's access to reproductive health care options," he continued. "If the court ultimately chooses to reverse Roe v. Wade, my position will remain firmly in support of the principles established under Roe."
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said Wednesday in a news release that he was "deeply disturbed" by the news of the leaked draft opinion.
"Constitutionally guaranteed rights of bodily autonomy are a requirement for any free and equitable society. To the extent that the draft reflects the final decision, it is additionally disturbing that the Justices are willing to overturn longstanding precedent, undermining the public's faith in the reliability of the rulings of the Supreme Court," Frey said.
"While Maine currently has strong reproductive health laws, I promise in my role as Attorney General that I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure unfettered access to abortion services," he continued.
When it comes to abortion, Maine law states: "It is the public policy of the State that the State not restrict a woman's exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability except as provided in section 1597‑A. After viability an abortion may be performed only when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."
In 2019, Maine expanded abortion providers to include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse-midwives, allowing those groups to provide abortion medication and perform in-clinic abortions, which typically involve suction.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England held a press conference in Portland on Tuesday morning, with a demonstration planned for 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the nonprofit's senior vice president of public affairs, Nicole Clegg.
“At Planned Parenthood, we know that banning abortion does not take away people’s need to access abortion care," Clegg said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Patients who need to access abortion should not face the shame and overwhelming hurdles that will come from this decision. And we will do everything we can to help those patients get abortion care safely. “
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the “basic fairness and the stability of our law demand” that the court not overturn Roe. While emphasizing that he couldn’t speak to the authenticity of the draft, Biden said his administration is preparing for all eventualities for when the court ultimate rules and that a decision overturning Roe would raise the stakes for voters in November’s heated midterm elections.
“If the court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Biden said. “And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law.”
Whatever the outcome, the Politico report late Monday represented an extremely rare breach of the court’s secretive deliberation process, and on a case of surpassing importance.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states. It was signed by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The document was labeled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” in a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The court is expected to rule on the case before its term ends in late June or early July.
Full statements from Maine elected officials
Sen. Susan Collins
“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”
Gov. Janet Mills
“There are countless women across Maine and America who are worried right now – worried that their right to a safe and legal abortion is near its end; worried about what that uncertainty could mean for their health, their lives, and their futures; and worried about what this draft decision says about the values of our nation and their place in it.
“Well, I want to be very clear: unlike an apparent majority of the Supreme Court, I do not consider the rights of women to be dispensable. And I pledge that as long as I am Governor, I will fight with everything I have to protect reproductive rights and to preserve access to reproductive health care in the face of every and any threat to it – whether from politicians in Augusta or Supreme Court Justices in Washington.”
Former Gov. Paul LePage
“As the child of a severely dysfunctional family, with domestic abuse that left me homeless, I know my mother faced difficult decisions and I am glad she chose life. The federal government has regularly prohibited taxpayer abortion funding, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger; and I have supported that policy and would continue to do so. Maine state law already prohibits abortion after viability and our laws should keep pace with modern, medical technology. Late term abortions are extremely disturbing to most Maine people. The case before the U.S. Supreme Court is on state prohibitions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Governors receive Legislation on their desk from locally elected State Representatives and State Senators. In Maine, our local officials listen to the people. As Governor I have a proven history of supporting Life, including helping our most vulnerable women and children facing domestic abuse to our vulnerable senior citizens.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree
“I share the feelings of outrage, fear, and utter shock that millions of women across the country are experiencing right now. If this draft Supreme Court opinion is genuine and Roe v. Wade is overturned, a deeply partisan court will be undoing nearly 50 years of an established right to body autonomy.
“In every state in the nation, 70% of Americans oppose a federal ban on abortion care. A ban on abortions will not stop abortions—it will stop safe reproductive care. In a pre-Roe America, women died because they didn’t have access to basic reproductive health care. I never thought that we’d turn back the clock to that dark time.
“The government shouldn’t be able to tell anyone what to do with their own bodies. If you can’t force someone to donate blood, you can’t force someone into pregnancy.
“By passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, House Democrats stepped up to defend reproductive rights and ensure Constitutional rights aren't limited by income or zip code, but until it passes the Senate, we will be looking to states to stand up for abortion care. In Maine, we have laws that explicitly protect reproductive rights and we’re fortunate that Governor Mills is committed to upholding Roe.
“The bottom line is that, until a final decision is released, abortion is still legal in the United States and Maine.”
Maine Senate President Troy Jackson
“I find myself struggling to find the right words in response to the leaked draft of the Supreme Court opinion that intends to overturn the landmark abortion rights case. It’s a document that does not reflect the values, experiences, or needs of an overwhelming majority of Americans, let alone respect legal precedent. Instead, it’s a grossly out-of-touch document that reflects fringe beliefs and paints a disturbing picture of what is to come.
“Until the Supreme Court formally issues a ruling, abortion remains legal across the country. In Maine, the right to abortion is protected under state law. Unfortunately, access to abortion remains under constant attack. In 2021 alone, Maine Senate Democrats rejected six outrageous anti-abortion proposals.
“I know people are scared, so let me be clear – Maine Senate Democrats are committed to protecting Mainers’ right to abortion. We’re committed to making sure Maine people can make their own decisions about whether or not to start a family. This means not just protecting the right to abortion but taking steps to make sure that people can access it. It means doing everything we can to ensure that Mainers can access the birth control that works best for their bodies. It also means making sure more new mothers can access post-partum care and doing what we can to help Mainers who are struggling to become parents by improving access to fertility care. This draft opinion is anti-Maine, anti-American and anti-family.”
Maine Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli
"Waking up this morning to the news that the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade was sobering. At 73 years old, I can remember a time before Roe v. Wade was law, a time when women who needed abortions were forced to seek them in secret and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It is tragic that we may now be thrust back in time.
"I'm proud that because of the great work we've done to codify abortion rights in Maine, the reproductive freedoms of Maine people are protected for now. But across the country, millions of women are preparing to face the consequences of this devastating decision, a decision that will have profound effects on the health and wellbeing of women and their families. It's a reminder that even in Maine, we must not take our rights for granted – it's a fight I vow to never give up on."