The Supreme Court has privately voted to overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark case guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion — according to a leaked draft opinion published by Politico.
If that happens, what does it mean for Utah?
Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the preliminary majority opinion argues that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” and also strikes down a 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that further confirmed the right.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Alito wrote.
Alito argues that decisions on abortion law should be made by politicians, returning the issue to individual states.
The draft was written in February and is not final until it is published, the reporting by Politico notes. Leaking a draft opinion is wholly unprecedented in the court’s modern history.
On Tuesday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft, but said “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.” Roberts said he has launched an investigation into the source of the leak.
Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, echoed a statement released by the national organization, emphasizing the opinion is still pending.
“We have to take a deep breath and remember this is only a draft decision,” she told the Deseret News.
Let's be clear: This is a draft opinion. It’s outrageous, it’s unprecedented, but it is not final.— Planned Parenthood (@PPFA) May 3, 2022
Abortion is your right — and it is STILL LEGAL. https://t.co/s9R7w99n71
Galloway said she hopes the Supreme Court will reconsider before finalizing the decision, and pushed back on Alito’s characterization of Roe.
“It was not ill-conceived, as Alito wants us to believe. It was a solid 7-2 decision, and five of those justices — if you’re talking politics — were Republican appointees,” she said. “It was a well-reasoned decision, and it has almost 50 years of precedent. The majority of women of childbearing years have never lived without Roe.”
Galloway said she believes the court’s decision was politically motivated and she’s worried about its credibility going forward.
“This is the vocal minority that want to put their own personal moral beliefs on all of us. And that’s not the country I believe in, so I’m really, really bummed,” she said.
Abortion access in Utah
Without Roe v. Wade, abortion rights would be left up to the states to decide, and members of Utah’s Legislature have already made it clear how they feel. In 2020, then-Gov. Gary Herbert signed a so-called trigger law, with further, currently illegal restrictions on abortions set to go into effect if Roe is overturned.
SB174 prohibits abortions in most cases, but it does allow exceptions if the mother’s life is at risk, if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if two physicians who practice “maternal fetal medicine” both determine that the fetus “has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal or ... has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.”
Galloway called the trigger law “hastily decided” and said the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah intends to continue lobbying the Legislature to overturn it.
“We will certainly be working for the Legislature to reconsider ... and do it with a little more compassion, and a little more awareness of the needs of families and women and people who get pregnant in Utah,” she said. “Listening to not just their own personal moral beliefs, but women who have been in these situations.”
Although exceptions are currently in place, the Utah Republican Party has signaled it may want to see even more restrictions in the future. A proposed platform amendment introduced last month would remove the language making exceptions to preserve the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
During the party’s state nominating convention last month, delegates didn’t take a vote on the proposal — neither accepting nor rejecting the change.
Utah isn’t the only state to get a head start on restricting abortion, as 21 other states have passed near-total or early-term bans, according to Vox.
Abortion rights refugees
At the same time, some liberal-leaning states, including some of Utah’s neighbors, have moved in the opposite direction, further enshrining abortion rights for women. Just last month, a Colorado law codified the right, making it one of the few states without restrictions on abortions at any point in pregnancy, according to NPR.
Thanks to the patchwork of state laws, Utahns will likely need to travel to neighboring Nevada, Colorado or New Mexico to receive abortions. Some Colorado clinics are already preparing for an influx of patients by staffing up and purchasing equipment.
After Texas passed a near-total ban on abortion last year, Planned Parenthood clinics in neighboring states reported a nearly 800% increase in abortion patients from Texas.
Abortion rights activists worry that the inconvenience and cost of travel will make abortion unavailable to many, leaving low-income people with no choice but to carry a pregnancy to term or risk trying to terminate the pregnancy on their own with a do-it-yourself tool.
Planned Parenthood “will always be here ... to fight for reproductive justice and for people to be able to live their best family lives,” Galloway said, adding that the organization is already planning for the possibility that Utah’s trigger law goes into effect. She said it’s “not just possible, it’s probable” that it will pivot to helping women access legal abortion in other states.
“We will always be providing family planning services to the people of Utah, but we also work within the law, and we’ll be here for people,” she said. “We hope that this is a wake-up call for the reality of possibilities and that people will be working with us to make that a reality. We will not let people down.”
Some companies have stepped up to help with the financial cost of travel. In April, Yelp announced it would cover abortion-related travel expenses for employees and spouses who live in Texas, according to The New York Times. Amazon followed suit with a similar policy, and will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses for treatments not available nearby, the BBC reported earlier on Monday.
It’s unclear how many women in Utah might be eligible for such benefits, or if more companies will join in on helping women receive care out of state.