Proponents, foes miffed

SUPREME COURT WEAKENS ABORTION RIGHTS

June 29, 1992|By Bruce Reid and Melody Simmons | Bruce Reid and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers

Within minutes of an important Supreme Court ruling on abortion today upholding most of the provisions of a restrictive Pennsylvania law, anti-abortion groups in Maryland were saying the court did not go far enough.

But abortion-rights groups, also displeased with the ruling, were calling it "bad news" because it appears to give states broad new power to restrict abortions.

"Roe is still in the picture. We're disappointed to see that it's notoverturned," said Ellen Curro, president and executive director of Vote kNOw Coalition,a Maryland anti-abortion group.

But, Ms. Curro said, it's clear that the court is moving toward a far more restrictive standard, such as that contained the Pennsylvania law. Upholding the provisions "are good signs," she said.

Maryland Right to Life Executive Director Roger Stenson said his organization of 7,000 members is "very pleased" with the initial reading of the decision.

"It's a tremendous day for unborn babies and it's a good shot in the arm for people who are involved in protecting them," said Mr. Stenson.

TC But abortion-rights groups said they were "alarmed" and described the decision as "playing rights into the hands of extremists."

Jim Guest, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said: "They have kept the shell of Roe vs. Wade but gutted the substance. This now means that women are going to be thrown at the mercy of 50 different states which have now been given almost a free reign to restrict access to a safe and legal abortion."

Mr. Guest emphasized Planned Parenthood's role in promoting the abortion-law referendum in Maryland on the fall ballot.

"Our destiny in Maryland is in our own hands," he said of the upcoming campaign. "Will we take away our right or will we preserve it? It may set as absolutely crucial that we protect our rights in Maryland by voting for the referendum in November."

"The voters of Maryland don't have to wait for the court to play out its political games," said Maura Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Maryland For Choice.

The group, a coalition of about 30 organizations, is campaigning in support of the new state abortion law.

The Maryland law, which would keep most abortions legal here despite Supreme Court action, will be on the Nov. 3 ballot as a referendum issue.

The only other abortion law on Maryland's books is a 1968 statute that allows abortions in hospitals after approval by a review board and only if the woman's life or health are at risk, the fetus is deformed or the pregnancy is the result of a reported rape.

That law was made unconstitutional by the Roe decision in 1973 and has not been enforced since. If the Supreme Court overturns or severely cuts back the Roe ruling, that 1968 law could be resurrected -- at least until the November referendum.

The Maryland Catholic Conference welcomed the high court ruling.

Richard Dowling, executive director of the conference, said the ruling would affect the referendum by showing Maryland voters that regulation of abortion is constitutional. "What the [Pennsylvania] decision does is dramatize the extremes of the Maryland law," he said, referring to the abortion law passed by the General Assembly in 1991. "It will provide strong arguments for the pro-life forces."

Mr. Dowling said he had not expected the court to use the Pennsylvania case as an opportunity to overrule Roe vs. Wade, since that case raised the issue of regulation, not the Roe vs. Wade right to abortion.

But he said he expected the Roe decision to be challenged and considered in subsequent cases that are now making their way toward the Supreme Court.

Jack Schwartz, chief counsel to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., said the attorney general would comment on the high court ruling later today. "We have to sort things out," he said.

The Supreme Court today gave states new power to restrict abortions.

But, by a 5-4 vote, it said states may not outlaw all abortions.

The court fell one vote short of overturning its landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Upholding most of the Pennsylvania law, the court said chiefly that women seeking abortions must be told about fetal development and alternatives to ending their pregnancies and must must wait at least 24 hours after receiving them.

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