Georgia Public Broadcasting / Protesters hold an April 2019 demonstration in the state Capitol against Georgia's "heartbeat bill," HB 481, in costumes reminiscent of those in the TV series "The Handmaid's Tale," which is set in a future without abortion rights. On Monday, May 2, 2022, a draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade's protections of abortion rights was leaked.

The draft U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked this week shows the justices intend to overturn abortion rights, which would open a likely path for Georgia's six-week abortion ban to be upheld.

The document, written by Justice Samuel Alito in February, indicates the highest court in the nation is poised to strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

"It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives," Alito wrote in the 98-page opinion.

Georgia's so-called "heartbeat bill" that passed in 2019 is still held up by a federal district court of appeals. The law would ban most abortions once a doctor could detect fetal cardiac activity with an ultrasound — usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

Judges in the U.S. 11th District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in September but were wary to push the case forward as the U.S. Supreme Court was set to take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Mississippi case that's the subject of the draft decision. The Mississippi law bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

Roe's reversal would favor Mississippi's law and pave the way for states to make the final decision on abortion access for their residents.

Gov. Brian Kemp's office responded to the news with optimism that Georgia's law will eventually go into effect.

"Georgia is a state that values life at all stages," said Kemp spokesperson Katie Byrd. "Gov. Kemp led the fight to pass the strongest pro-life bill in the country and championed the law throughout legal challenges. We look forward to the court issuing its final ruling, however, this unprecedented breach of U.S. Supreme Court protocol is deeply concerning."

Critics of the restrictive measure say many women don't even know they are pregnant until further into the first trimester, meaning the law essentially amounts to a total ban on abortions.

A coalition of abortion rights advocates in Georgia sued the state after lawmakers passed House Bill 481, which aims to create a short timeline for a woman to receive an abortion. The law also includes what supporters call "personhood" language that grants legal rights to fertilized eggs.

The Georgia law is on par with a recently enacted Texas law that also bans abortions as early as six weeks and has stirred outrage among supporters of reproductive rights. It was also originally blocked in lower courts.

Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director at Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta, said advocates weren't surprised by the leaked ruling that Roe v. Wade may be overturned — a possibility for which they have been preparing.

"However, I don't think anybody was expecting to have this information be shared late last night," she said. "And for a leak to come from the Supreme Court was also just a surprising phenomenon that I don't think any of us were anticipating."

Georgia does not have a "trigger law" that would immediately outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned, she said, so the challenge to HB 481 will still have to play out in court, though the current injunction could be lifted.

But the draft opinion does not mean immediate restrictions of abortions, she said.

"It is just a draft, it is not the final story," Jackson said. "Abortion care is still available today; it is still legal today."

Dr. Andra Gillespie, professor of political science at Emory University, agreed that it's important to remember that the court's decisions goes through many changes.

"We have to keep in mind that decisions are in flux until they are released," she said.

The Supreme Court's reversal of the landmark decision would also mean a dramatic infusion of the abortion rights debate into both national and state politics ahead of crucial elections.

Mere hours after the draft decision leaked, barricades were being put up around the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. — hinting at concern for the possibility of large protests.

The issue will likely deepen the divide between Georgia voters in the contentious upcoming midterm and general elections. Georgians will soon take to the polls to make decisions on the state's next governor, a U.S. senator, congressional lawmakers and statewide officials.