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Understanding Justice Alito's Leaked Opinion

Editor's Note: This article originally was published on May 4, 2022, and is being re-run as part of a "The Best of Breakpoint 2022" series.

On Monday night, an initial draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion on the Dobbs case was leaked to news site Politico. As SCOTUS Blog tweeted: “It’s impossible to overstate the earthquake this will cause inside the Court, in terms of the destruction of trust among the Justices and staff.” Tuesday morning, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft, and called the leak a “betrayal of confidences of the Court intended to undermine the integrity of our operations.”

Most likely, the leak was intended to pressure the Court’s conservative justices to moderate their opinion before a final decision is published. That would be especially inappropriate if the source of the leak is a clerk of one of the Justices.

One response would be for the Court, as National Review’s Ed Whelan suggested, to announce the majority decision as soon as possible, allowing dissenting views to be published later. It’s happened before in extenuating circumstances.

What’s not clear is how the leaked draft of the majority opinion will compare to the final draft. Unless it is somehow significantly gutted, Justice Samuel Alito has thoroughly and thoughtfully dismantled, at least in legal terms, the 50-year hold that Roe v. Wade has held on America. Here are three observations from the leaked draft.

First, Alito thoroughly dismantles the claim that the right to an abortion is found anywhere in the Constitution. He states: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” Thus, Alito concludes, the 1992 follow-up case to Roe v. Wade, known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey would also be overruled. Quoting other cases, Alito insists that Casey’s basis on Roe’s precedent “is not an exorable command” and that it’s time for the issue to “be settled right.”

Second, Alito dismantles what he calls Roe’s “most important rule”: “that states cannot protect fetal life prior to ‘viability.’” When Roe was established, viability was considered to be at around 28 weeks of gestation.

Today, it’s at 24 weeks or younger. Viability, Alito further notes, is also based on the health of the mother and the hospital facilities where she lives.

Given these multiple factors, Alito argues, “the viability line makes no sense, and it is telling that other countries almost uniformly eschew such a line.” In a footnote, Alito notes that the U.S and the Netherlands are the only nations to rely on viability. He doesn’t mention what others have recognized, that the U.S. is most in line with the authoritarian regimes of China and North Korea in its abortion policy.

Third, if this decision holds, the Court would not be outlawing abortion but returning the decisions about abortion to the states. “In the years prior to [Roe v. Wade],” writes Alito, “about a third of the States had liberalized their laws, but Roe abruptly ended that political process.” Roe was, writes Alito, quoting the late Justice Ginsberg, an “exercise of raw judicial power.” He then surmises that some states will expand abortion rights and other will limit them, but this is how states are supposed to work. State legislators will work out state regulations for abortion instead of a court, and voters will therefore have a voice in the process.

Limiting abortion rights in any way, including moving the decision to the states, is intolerable for abortion advocates. In a tweeted response to the leak, Sen. Elizabeth Warren pressed for the elimination of the filibuster in Congress in order for the Women’s Health Protection Act to pass. This extreme measure, which could be called the Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act, is not supported by a majority of Americans. According to a recent poll, 71% of Americans, including 49% of Democrats, want abortion limited to the first trimester.

Warren also claimed that dismantling of Roe v. Wade would be an act of racism. In the same tweet about eliminating the filibuster, she alleged, if an extremist Supreme Court overturns Roe, wealthy women will still get safe abortions—by traveling to another state or country. But women of color, those with lower-incomes, and victims of abuse will suffer the most.

And of course, the leaked draft of Alito’s opinion also led to numerous Handmaid’s Tale references and the tired old canard that pro-lifers care about babies only until they are born.

None of these claims, of course is true. In fact, 4,000 pregnancy resource centers exist to help parents who may be in crisis.

If this leaked opinion is indeed reflective of what the final decision will be, then we must do two things. First, we must thank God that this decades-long legal nightmare is over. Our efforts to protect babies and care for vulnerable women will no longer be pre-empted by an evil masquerading as an invented “right.” Second, the Court has done its job. It cannot do our job. State legislatures now have very important jobs to do, but they cannot do the jobs that we are called to: to speak the truth in love and to create a culture of life and care.

Next week we have a free event in Orlando, Florida, called Preparing for a Post-Roe World. If you’re in the area or nearby, register for an evening with speakers such as Tim Tebow, Erin Morrow Hawley of Alliance Defending Freedom, Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, and Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life. Stephanie Gray Connors of Love Unleashes Life will be spending time in particular unpacking the slogans for abortion. Register now for this event preparing you for the cultural moment.

And while you’re doing that, pray for the safety of our Supreme Court Justices from intimidation and unlawful acts. Pray that the intentions of whoever caused this leak will backfire, and God’s true justice will reign.

Publication date: May 4, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

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