Pa. asks high court to reconsider Roe

December 10, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of the Sun

WASHINGTON -- The state of Pennsylvania plans to urge the Supreme Court this week to reconsider Roe vs. Wade and to define a new constitutional standard giving states more power to stop or reduce abortions.

The Pennsylvania appeal, which state officials said they filed by mail yesterday, will take away much if not all of the remaining doubt that the court will face the future of the Roe decision in its current term -- giving the issue new and higher visibility in the midst of the 1992 presidential primary election campaign.

Five Pennsylvania abortion clinics and a doctor had already filed their own separate appeal in the new test case, asking the court to decide whether Roe remains the law of the land.

In October, a federal appeals court had upheld all but one part of new anti-abortion laws adopted in Pennsylvania, and the case had appeared to be shaping up as a major test of the court's willingness to overturn Roe or modify it significantly.

But until the state's plans were made known yesterday, there remained a chance that the case might not be ready for the

justices in time for a hearing and decision before the court recesses early next summer.

The state technically could have waited another six weeks to file its own appeal. Had it done so, that would have kept the court from deciding the case during the current term.

State Attorney General Ernest D. Preate Jr. said that by filing the state's appeal now, rather than waiting, "I hope [to make] it possible for the court to hear the case in April,rather than next fall or even as late as 1993."

If the normal pace is followed at the court, with the state appeal due there today or tomorrow, the justices may indicate before late January whether they will hear it. They have seldom passed up a major test case on abortion in recent years.

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The Bush administration will now be faced with the prospect of repeating its earlier pleas to the court -- unsuccessful so far -- to overturn Roe vs. Wade and let the issue of abortion regulation go back to state legislatures.

Abortion rights groups have made it clear that they will try to use as a political campaign issue next year the fact that the Roe decision seems to be threatened and is under review.

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