Pa. residents anxiously await court decision on abortion law

April 22, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

PAOLI, PA — PAOLI, Pa. -- Already, the phones at the Women's Suburban Clinic here have been ringing.

"We get a certain number of panicky calls," said Sherley Hollos, the clinic's executive director. "How many days do I have? Is abortion still legal?"

Yes, Ms. Hollos assures them. Yes, abortion is legal in Pennsylvania today and will be legal in Pennsylvania even if, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court rules later that the state's new abortion law is constitutional.

But the law restricts how and when a woman may have the procedure. So though abortion will remain legal, Ms. Hollos says her non-profit clinic will perform fewer abortions. And more expensive abortions. And abortions that will be harder for rural women, who live greater distances from urban clinics, to obtain.

A few miles away, in the Philadelphia offices of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Dayle Steinberg, the acting administrator, sees the same future.

"It's going to be difficult," she said. "There are women who will not have legal abortions because of this law."

Exactly, said Denise Neary, director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, with satisfaction.

"The difference," Ms. Neary said, "is they think that's bad, and we think that's good."

Ms. Neary has spent 19 years campaigning against abortion. She believes that restrictions on the right to abortion will serve as a deterrent and reduce the number of abortions performed each year.

"The law is teacher," Ms. Neary said. "If abortion were not sanctioned by law, it would not be nearly as prevalent as it is."

The new statute would require a woman seeking an abortion to sign a form saying she's informed her husband, in most instances; to see a doctor for counseling about how a fetus develops and about such alternatives as adoption; and to wait 24 hours before having the abortion. A teen-ager under 18 would have to obtain the consent of one parent or a judge.

Ms. Neary said those are simply reasonable restrictions.

But defenders of legal abortion say the law's provisions are invasions of a woman's right to make decisions free of government interference.

Women's Suburban Clinic, one of the plaintiffs challenging the new Pennsylvania law before the Supreme Court today, performs about 2,400 abortions a year. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, another of the plaintiffs, performs about 3,500.

If the law is upheld, "I would still want to continue doing that many," Ms. Steinberg said. "But now, it's going to be a two-day procedure," with women having to wait overnight after a counseling session before an abortion can be performed. "Ridiculous," Ms. Steinberg said. "It's just state-induced harassment."

The requirement also is "discriminatory against poor women, working women and women in rural areas," she said. To require a woman to arrange for two separate appointments -- and maybe, if she has traveled from a distant county, to wait overnight in a motel -- is "ridiculous for a procedure that takes 10 minutes.

"Women who can't afford to stay in a hotel overnight, who can't afford to travel will resort to illegal abortion," Ms. Steinberg said. "It will look attractive to them."

Ms. Hollos predicts that the restrictions will confuse and intimidate some women, who then will wait until the second trimester of pregnancy to seek an abortion. "That's more dangerous, more expensive, more complications, more days out of work," Ms. Hollos said.

And both she and Ms. Steinberg predict that abortions will cost more -- because the patient now will have to pay for a counseling session with a doctor who will discuss fetal development in addition to the routine abortion counseling.

While the clinics wait for the court ruling, the protests outside continue. Friday, demonstrators carrying a 7-foot cross prayed outside the Philadelphia clinic. Outside the Paoli clinic, protesters appear twice weekly, though by court order they cannot cross the gray semicircle painted outside the clinic door.

The court decision is expected in late June or early July. For months, Ms. Hollos has been ready. From a file cabinet in her office at the Women's Suburban Clinic she pulled a file filled with the new scheduling and new staffing she'll need to keep performing abortions legally once Pennsylvania's new abortion law takes effect. "They want us to jump through hoops, we'll jump through all the hoops," she said.

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