Politics at Its Worst

August 09, 1991

It is not often that a federal district court judge rules in an important case without holding a trial, as Judge Adrian Duplantier did in New Orleans Wednesday. He struck down the state's new anti-abortion law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional under Roe vs. Wade. He should not have done that. This extreme law, banning almost all abortions and penalizing physicians who perform them with 10-year prison terms and $100,000 fines, would have been found unconstitutional even without relying on Roe. Still, since both sides had vowed to appeal the verdict, Judge Duplantier should have developed a trial record for proper appellate review.

Louisiana Attorney General William Guste said Thursday that the state wants the case to go directly to the Supreme Court, by-passing the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Even if there were a trial record, this would be inappropriate. There is no emergency involved in Louisiana, and the Supreme Court has at least one and possibly other abortion cases coming before it next term in an orderly fashion after trial and circuit court review.

One of those cases involves whether federal law forbids anti-abortion extremists from forcibly preventing women from entering clinics where legal abortions are provided. Members of Operation Rescue have been doing this recently in Wichita, Kan., in defiance of a federal trial judge's injunction. Incredibly, the Justice Department just this week went into court on the extremists' side.

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh says he wants only to help resolve the question of whether an old Reconstruction Era law protects women as a class the way it protects blacks as a class. That is a disingenuous statement, since there is, as we indicated above, a case already scheduled for Supreme Court argument that involves this question. It will resolve the issue far sooner than the Wichita case ever could.

The case already before the Supreme Court involves the same extremist group that is active in Wichita. Two years ago its members took similar action in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. A unanimous Fourth Circuit Court panel -- all Reagan appointees -- upheld a district court ruling that the Reconstruction law definitely protects women as a class, with or without regard to abortion. Most circuits have ruled that way, too.

By their interference in Wichita, Mr. Thornburgh, who is about to run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, and his boss, President Bush, who is about to run for re-election, are ignoring the law and proper procedure. They are shamelessly pandering to the extreme wing of the anti-abortion movement. This is politics at its worst.

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