Women's abortion rights at risk in 13 states, lobbying group says NARAL foresees end of Roe vs. Wade

January 08, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest abortion-rights group yesterday identified 13 states where it estimates 14.6 million women "are at immediate risk of losing their right to choose."

The survey by the National Abortion Rights Action League was a new effort in its political campaign to save abortion rights by arguing that they are now in deep trouble.

If the Supreme Court takes abortion rights out of the Constitution, NARAL said, the 13 states seem likely to ban abortion immediately. Louisiana and Utah are at the top of the list, followed by Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

Maryland is rated among states where the risk is considered minimal.

The court is poised to act on a case from Pennsylvania that tests whether Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights ruling of 1973, remains the law of the land.

NARAL, in its first attempt to rank the risk factor in all 50 states should the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 ruling, listed 13 states as having the "highest risk," another 13 in the "high risk" category and six other states as "moderate risk."

It put Maryland in the "low risk" group, along with 10 other states.

In seven other states, NARAL said, abortion rights appear to be "safer" than in the group in which Maryland was placed. The "lowest risk" group has California as the safest state, followed by Washington, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, Hawaii and North Carolina.

NARAL's executive director, Kate Michelman, told reporters here that there was no assurance that any American woman of childbearing age -- a group she said numbers 58.3 million -- would keep her abortion rights if the Supreme Court did cast them aside.

The "capriciousness" of politics, she said, may put every woman "at risk," and any state "may be just one election away from putting in place anti-choice officials."

Ms. Michelman said that NARAL is "planning for a world without Roe because we know that, with this Supreme Court, a world without Roe is absolutely inevitable." If that decision is not overturned this year, it will be next year, she predicted.

She said her group was launching a $4 million campaign to get voters who favor abortion rights to the polls this year. She also denounced President Bush as "the most anti-choice, anti-woman president in history" and said NARAL will seek to "make George Bush responsible" for the loss of the constitutional right of abortion because of his appointments to the Supreme Court.

NARAL's new survey was denounced by the nation's largest anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life Committee. Its president, Wanda Franz, said the survey was "a crude effort to rally support for a radical, abortion-on-demand measure in Congress" -- the so-called "freedom of choice" bill that would write the Roe decision into national legislation.

Ms. Franz said NARAL has been "often wrong" in its predictions of how states would react to the abortion issue.

She added that "the slow, but steady, work to protect unborn children is a longer process than the simplistic" predictions made by NARAL and other such groups.

Since 1989, NARAL has been doing surveys of the political atmosphere on abortion rights in all the states.

This year marked the first time that NARAL sought to rank them according to the potential "risk" of abandoning abortion rights.

Its ratings were based on its findings of how the governors and state legislatures appeared to stand on the basic question of whether abortion should remain legal or be outlawed altogether. It had asked the governors for statements on their views.

Ms. Michelman noted that the rating system did not take into account the "risk" that public officials would favor severe restrictions on abortion rights, even where they favored keeping abortion legal.

In its view of the situation in Maryland, NARAL rated the governor and both houses of the General Assembly as supporting abortion as a legal option for the state's 1,149,000 women of childbearing age.

In response to NARAL's request for his views, Gov. William Donald Schaefer noted that he had signed into law a bill that guarantees abortion rights for most women in Maryland -- a measure that is subject to a voters' veto at a referendum in November.

The governor added: "Although I personally believe that abortion is wrong in most circumstances, I feel very strongly that politicians and government should not be involved in a woman's decision to have an abortion.

"I know that women do not arrive at the decision to have an abortion without much thought and soul searching, and I believe that decision should be left to a woman and her doctor."

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