Such a move would represent a drastic reversal of decades of precedent that would isolate the United States from most of the developed world on reproductive rights.
The court’s public affairs office on Tuesday confirmed the document is “authentic,” but stressed that “it does not represent a decision by the court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
The official opinion would reverberate around the world. It would firmly counter a global trend towards freer access to abortion, and place the US in a very small club of countries that have moved to restrict access in recent years.
Several states have already chipped away at the availability of the procedure; if swathes of the US are allowed to end it entirely, the country would become home to some of the strictest abortion laws in the Western world.
Here’s how the US would compare with the rest of the world on the issue of abortion.
Some US allies have greater access to abortion
It is generally in the company of other Western nations, since few developed countries ban or heavily restrict access to abortions. Of the 36 countries the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs defines as developed economies, all but two — Poland and Malta — allow abortions on request or on broad health and socio-economic grounds, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which campaigns for improved access to abortion and monitors laws worldwide.
But an end to federal protection of abortion would see parts of the US join that list. It would also push against a global tide that has seen many nations, including those on the United States’ doorstep, liberalize abortion laws in recent years.
“Never again will a woman or a person with the capacity to carry a child be criminally prosecuted,” Justice Luis Maria Aguilar said after the ruling. “Today the threat of imprisonment and stigma that weigh on people who freely decide to terminate their pregnancy are banished.”
The US’ northern neighbor, Canada, is one of the few countries which allows abortion at any point during pregnancy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized moves in US states to make abortions more difficult to access.
Abortions are available at hospitals and private clinics; in most cases the procedure is covered by provincial government health insurance plans, which means they are essentially free. But the lack of a national abortion law in Canada has left access to services across the country patchy.
Most European Union nations — including those in the G7 — allow abortion with gestation limits, the most common being 12 weeks, according to monitoring charities including CRR. Exceptions after that period are usually permitted on certain grounds, such as if the pregnancy or birth poses a risk to the mother’s health.
Opposition to the procedure is generally less widespread in those countries than in the US.
Anti-abortion protests occasionally take place in countries including the UK, where some councils have responded by reducing protesters’ ability to interact with people entering clinics.
Activists around the EU have also called for loosening restrictions in their countries; in Germany for instance, abortion is permitted up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but people seeking the procedure are required to attend a compulsory counseling session, which is followed by a mandatory three-day waiting period. Doctors there have also been prosecuted for sharing details about the abortion services they offer because any “advertising” of abortions is outlawed.
Japan, alongside countries like Finland and India, makes provisions for abortion in cases of rape or risk to the woman’s health, but also on wider socioeconomic grounds.
Among comparative democracies to the US, Australia’s laws have been among the most similar. As in the US, access to abortion varies in each Australian state and territory — and until recently, some regions criminalized the procedure.
US states could join a clutch of regions making abortion harder to access
The final opinion in the Supreme Court case isn’t expected to be published until late June. Votes and language can change before opinions are formally released.
But if the court follows through on its reported decision to repeal Roe v. Wade, several US states would be expected to quickly restrict or outlaw abortion. That would impact the lives and health care provisions of millions, and spark a myriad of concerns that are most commonly reported in developing countries.
Nearly half of abortions worldwide are unsafe, and 97% of unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, the WHO says.
But the United States is not the only nation where abortion rights are under threat; in other, more socially conservative pockets of the world, populist and authoritarian governments have similarly moved to restrict access to the procedure.
The Polish government has made abortion a wedge issue since coming to power in 2015, appealing to social conservatives in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation, but sparking massive protests in the country’s more liberal cities.
Slovakia tried to follow Poland’s lead, but the country’s parliament has rejected several bills proposing restrictions on reproductive rights in the past two years.
In Central and South America, abortion laws are generally strict. In Brazil, for instance, the procedure is illegal except for certain circumstances, such as fetal defects or if the abortion is a result of rape, according to HRW. Women and girls who end their pregnancies under other circumstances can face up to three years behind bars, HRW says.
In Nicaragua and El Salvador, abortion is completely illegal in every circumstance and prison sentences in the latter country can stretch up to 40 years. “Such laws effectively amount to torture, discrimination and the denial of some of the most basic human rights to life and to dignity,” human rights group Amnesty International said last year, in relation to El Salvador. In recent years some rulings there have been reversed, with several women released from jail after serving parts of their long sentences.
But other South American states have moved towards allowing abortion. Argentina passed a law allowing the procedure in December, while in Chile, where abortion was banned entirely until 2017, a debate is underway about decriminalization.