PHILADELPHIA -- A federal appeals court has upheld most of Pennsylvania's strict abortion law, moving it closer to a test in the U.S. Supreme Court that could challenge Roe vs. Wade.
An appeal would bring the abortion issue once again before the high court, which has shown a new willingness to re-examine -- and perhaps overturn -- Roe vs. Wade, its landmark ruling of 18 years ago that made abortions legal.
Pennsylvania's law does not forbid abortions but sets a series of conditions that women must pass before they can have one.
Writing for the majority, Judge Walter K. Stapleton of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the state law was constitutional except for a section requiring a woman to notify her spouse before having an abortion.
Spousal notification, wrote Stapleton in yesterday's 85-page opinion, placed an "undue burden" on women, and the state had no "compelling interest" in requiring notice.
Left in place by the appeals court were a provision requiring a 24-hour wait before a woman could have an abortion; a section that requires physicians -- not just counselors or social workers -- to use state-approved materials to advise women contemplating an abortion and a provision that requires minors seeking abortions to get the consent of one parent or a court order.
Despite the decision, the state law remains blocked by a 1990 federal court order that would stay in effect if a further appeal was taken.
The law found constitutional was virtually identical to Pennsylvania's 1982 Abortion Control Act, which was struck down by the 3rd Circuit seven years ago and nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 opinion.
Lawyers for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania and a group of abortion providers who had challenged the law said they would study the opinion before deciding whether to appeal.
"Today is a bleak day for women in Pennsylvania," said Linda Wharton, managing attorney at the Women's Law Project, which helped represent the plaintiffs. "Roe vs. Wade is no longer the law of the land."
Deputy State Attorney General Kate L. Mershimer said she was pleased with the opinion but that her office would have to review it before deciding whether to appeal the spousal-notification provision.