Court lifts ban on enforcing Miss. anti-abortion law First state case since last high court ruling

August 07, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal court order yesterday made Mississippi the first state to get permission under the Supreme Court's new abortion ruling to start enforcing a law designed to limit women's right to end pregnancy.

Without saying why, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans put into immediate effect a ruling it had issued just hours earlier permitting Mississippi to carry out an anti-abortion criminal law that had been passed last year over the governor's veto.

State prosecutors said they would start enforcing the law at midnight Saturday. They set that deadline after the appeals court refused a plea by two clinics and two doctors to delay its ruling for at least a month.

The law requires doctors to wait for 24 hours to perform an abortion, with only a narrow exception for medical emergencies. It also requires doctors to give pregnant women advice -- before they can get an abortion -- about financial aid if they continue the pregnancy and have the baby, about the age of the fetus they are carrying, and about the medical risks of abortion and of carrying the pregnancy to term.

The Mississippi case was the first one in which lawyers had a chance to debate the effect on other states' laws of the Supreme Court's latest ruling about five weeks ago, in a %J Pennsylvania case.

Lawyers challenging the Mississippi law contended that it is more restrictive than similar provisions of Pennsylvania anti-abortions laws that the Supreme Court tentatively upheld in its June 29 decision. In the Pennsylvania ruling, the Supreme Court spelled out by a 5-4 vote a more relaxed constitutional standard for judging state abortion curbs.

Under the Mississippi law, the 24-hour wait for an abortion would apply even in most medical emergencies confronted by a pregnant woman. The only time it would not apply was when the pregnancy threatened immediate loss of some bodily function. Pennsylvania's law would allow doctors more discretion in emergencies to go ahead with an abortion.

The Mississippi law forbids doctors to avoid giving the mandated advice, even if the doctor believes that the advice itself posed a psychological risk to the woman. There is no "therapeutic exception" to the duty to give the advice, while there is in the Pennsylvania law.

Although the advice mandated in Mississippi includes assurances that, if the pregnancy continues to birth, the father will be obliged to provide support, lawyers for the challengers offered evidence that only 5 percent of the women in Mississippi seeking child support from fathers get it.

The appeals court in New Orleans said it would explain its action on the Mississippi law in a formal opinion later. Its two-sentence order simply wiped out a federal judge's year-old order forbidding Mississippi to enforce its law. The appeals court also gave no immediate explanation for refusing to postpone its ruling.

Rachael Pine, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy and one of the attorneys handling the Mississippi case, described the court orders as "step one in the fallout" from the Supreme Court's June 29 ruling,

She predicted that court orders now in effect against state anti-abortion laws "are going to be vacated, all across the country."

Ms. Pine and other attorneys in the Mississippi case wanted the appeals court to send their case back to a trial judge, so they could try to challenge it anew as unconstitutional even under the latest Supreme Court ruling.

They told the appeals court that the Mississippi law was different enough from the Pennsylvania law that it could not survive under the new standard.

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