State's old and new abortion laws

June 30, 1992

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. says his initial reading of the Supreme Court's abortion decision of yesterday upholding some Pennsylvania abortion laws is that it does not reinstate Maryland's 1968 abortion law. That's our reading, also.

Maryland's law, which allows abortions only in hospitals and bans them there except in a limited number of circumstances, was made unenforceable by Roe vs. Wade.

That 1973 Supreme Court decision said women have a broad and "fundamental" constitutional right to an abortion. State regulations or laws that even interfere with that, much less ban it, are almost always unconstitutional. The Supreme Court yesterday modified Roe, but it did not overrule it.

In fact, the opinion of the court went out of its way to say repeatedly such things as "the essential holding of Roe v. Wade should be retained and once again reaffirmed," and "[this decision] does not disturb the central holding of Roe v. Wade, and we reaffirm that holding." But states now may regulate abortions more than before.

As far as Maryland is concerned, the Supreme Court ruling will have more economic and political impact than legal.

The decision will have an economic impact in Maryland because many Pennsylvania women who do not want to submit themselves to the state's laws requiring mandatory anti-abortion counseling and waiting periods, parental notification and providing information for public records will come to Maryland clinics for abortions.

The Supreme Court decision also will have a political impact here because it is bound to affect public opinion concerning Maryland's new abortion law. This law was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor last year -- but then petitioned to referendum. It is on hold. It can be affirmed or killed by voters in November.

The new law more or less codifies Roe as it was. It prevents government interference with abortions prior to the time a fetus can live outside the womb, at which point the state may ban abortions except in a few instances involving the life and health of the mother and the fetus.

We hope the pro-choice forces will see the new Supreme Court opinion as a spur to work hard to turn out a pro-law vote in November. It would be a mistake to sigh in relief and not worry about what happens in November. Not only is the new law closer to Roe vs. Wade than the new Supreme Court ruling, and thus more preferable; it is also a fact that four of the nine members of the Supreme Court said Monday they want to throw Roe out altogether. One more new conservative justice and that might happen. If and when it does, Maryland should have its good new law on the books.

Even the anti-Roe justices say, by the way, that if Roe were completely over-ruled, states would still have the right to enact such laws as the one on Maryland's ballot next November.

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