WASHINGTON -- The government of the Pacific island of Guam said yesterday that it would appeal a federal court decision striking down a law that prohibits abortion in nearly all circumstances.
The move set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider -- perhaps as early as next year -- Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
Although the Guam government had suggested earlier that it might not pursue the case, Gov. Joseph F. Ada said he had decided "after tremendous soul-searching" to appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Lawyers familiar with the case said it could reach the Supreme Court as early as next fall, about the same time the court may be asked to consider another case involving an anti-abortion law from Pennsylvania.
The Guam law was struck down last month by a federal judge who said it directly contravened Roe vs. Wade. Judge Alex R. Munson, who was named to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, said the Supreme Court's rulings fully applied to U.S. territories such as Guam.
The Guam law outlawed most abortions, including those in preg
nancies involving rape or incest, or when there is a certainty of fetal abnormality. An abortion would be permitted only when a panel of two doctors decided that continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother or "gravely impair her
Since the Roe decision, some of the newer justices on the Supreme Court have indicated that, given a suitable opportunity, they might vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
"There is no question that the Guam law and Roe vs. Wade are incompatible," said Janet Benshoof, director of the reproductive freedom project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped bring the challenge to the Guam and Pennsylvania laws.
Pennsylvania enacted its law last November. It was the first new abortion law since a July 1989 Supreme Court ruling that upheld several restrictive provisions of a Missouri law, including a ban on abortions in public hospitals and clinics.
The day after Judge Munson struck down the Guam law, a federal judge in Reading, Pa., Daniel H. Huyett III, ruled that several provisions of the Pennsylvania law were unconstitutional, including requirements that a married woman seeking an abortion first inform her husband and that she listen to a state-prescribed lecture about the risks and benefits of abortion and childbirth.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernest Preate Jr. quickly announced his intention to appeal that ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia and, if necessary, to the Supreme Court.