High court to take new look at abortion rights Local activists on both sides of issue see potential for watershed decision.

January 21, 1992|By Mark Bomster

The Supreme Court's decision to review Pennsylvania's abortion law could prove a watershed, according to local abortion opponents and abortion rights activists.

Maryland abortion activists on both sides say the case could help shape abortion laws around the nation at a time when the future of the court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade precedent, setting a constitutional right to abortion, is seriously in doubt.

Roger J. Stenson, executive director of Maryland Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, said that, even without overturning Roe, the court could uphold the Pennsylvania law,putting its seal of approval on similar moves by other states to limit abortion.

He said the Pennsylvania case "has to do with giving women information so that they can make a truly informed decision about abortion surgery."

"The Pennsylvania law is a very reasonable law," said Mr. Stenson. "It's the kind of direction the country is going in."

Mr. Stenson contrasted that law with the situation in Maryland, where he said "the legislature has become very extremist in its position on abortion." The General Assembly last year passed a law preserving abortion rights guaranteed under the Roe decision.

The Pennsylvania case was a "no-win situation" for abortion rights advocates, said Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which supports the right to abortion.

Had the court refused to take the case, the Pennsylvania law would have remained intact, since a lower federal court upheld it.

He said the court appears determined to further restrict abortion rights.

"A decision to uphold the Pennsylvania law could cause considerable hardship to women seeking abortions," said Mr. Comstock-Gay. The court would in effect authorize a new series of restrictions on abortion, he said. "They don't have to overturn Roe vs. Wade to gut it."

James Guest, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said: "Whether or not they overturn the protections of Roe in this case, the handwriting is on the wall. They're bound to overturn it sooner or later."

Guest said he was glad the court agreed to review the Pennsylvania case, but said said supporters of abortion rights must look to state law for protection, given the trend of the Supreme Court on the issue.

"Women's lives are hanging by a thread, and the Supreme Court holds the scissors," he said.

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