The Politics of Abortion Now

December 02, 1992

The Supreme Court's decision Monday not to review a lower court order throwing out Guam's harsh anti-abortion law was no surprise. It almost certainly will not uphold Louisiana's anti-abortion law, which is almost as severe, either. Both would make abortion a crime.

If there is to be a continuing legal debate about abortion laws in courtrooms, it predictably will center only on the question of how far states may go in regulating abortions. Last June the court ruled 5-4 that consistent with the Roe vs. Wade decision, abortion regulations are permitted so long as they do not place an "undue burden" on the women seeking them. As for criminalizing abortions, the court said then that "prohibition of abortion" prior to viability was not constitutional. It left open the question of exactly what the state's and a pregnant woman's rights are post-viability.

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 Monday not to hear the Guam case. One of the six (Justice Harry Blackmun) and one of the three (Justice Byron White) are both thought to be considering retiring as early as at this term's end next summer. Both would be replaced by supporters of Roe vs. Wade. Gov. Bill Clinton said he would use a pro-abortion "litmus test" in nominating judges and justices for the federal judiciary.

the president-elect ran on a platform that endorsed Roe's guarantee to women of the right to choose abortion -- and in the case of poor women to have it paid for by the government. This could be codified in the next Congress. Right-to-life advocates picked up one vote in the Senate in last month's elections, but there will still be a solid pro-choice majority there. (A pro-choice Clinton judicial nominee will be rubber-stamped.) Also in the House, where it appears the pro-choice majority will be about 15-20 larger in the next Congress.

The political tide is running against the right-to-life movement. In addition to being on record in favor of pro-Roe judges and codifying Roe, Governor Clinton is also known to be in favor of repealing by executive order the ban on abortion advice in federally supported clinics. He is likely to lift the ban on fetal research. He is also likely to end the existing policy of the United States' withholding aid to international family planning organizations. And he may even allow the importation of the French "abortion pill," RU-486.

The pro-choice movement won the two abortion referendums on ballots last month. In Maryland a liberal new abortion statute was solidly approved, and in Arizona an abortion ban was soundly defeated. As a final sign of a change in the politics of abortion, exit polls in the presidential election showed that many abortion opponents now rank the issue farther down their issues list in terms of relative importance than they did previously.

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