Abortion restrictions can take effect in Pennsylvania, court rules

January 15, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Pregnant women in Pennsylvania -- including teen-agers living at home -- will soon have to start obeying the state's anti-abortion laws, 19 months after the Supreme Court upheld most of the restrictions, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia thwarted an attempt by abortion clinics in the state to make a new constitutional challenge to the laws before they could go into effect.

Pennsylvania's laws to curb abortions were enacted in 1988 and 1989 but have never been enforced because of court orders. The Pennsylvania dispute led to the most important Supreme Court ruling on abortion since the original decision in Roe vs. Wade in 1973.

After yesterday's Circuit Court ruling, enforcement could start within a matter of days, under court rules.

Abortion rights groups denounced the decision. Planned Parenthood Federation President Pamela J. Maraldo said it meant that "another door [was] being slammed shut in the face of women seeking basic health care."

Abortion opposition leaders called the ruling "fantastic." Denise Neary, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said: "We're obviously delighted this law is finally going into effect. It's a very reasonable law that's good for women and good for children."

Lawyers who had been challenging the laws for more than five years said they had not yet decided whether to try to get the case back before the Supreme Court.

A federal judge in Philadelphia, Daniel H. Huyett III, last May had barred the state from carrying out the laws, and in the meantime allowed a reopened challenge to the limitations. The Circuit Court, however, said yesterday that Judge Huyett had disobeyed the Supreme Court's ruling in June 1992.

Judge Huyett had agreed with the clinics' claim that the Supreme Court had left them with the option of offering new evidence against the laws before they were implemented.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices struck down only a requirement that pregnant women tell their husbands before getting an abortion. It upheld requirements that women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion and listen to a state-required lecture about the nature of the fetus and the risks of abortion, and a requirement that teen-agers living with their parents get the consent of one parent, or of a state judge, before having an abortion.

The Supreme Court, according to the Circuit Court, left nothing for Judge Huyett to consider about the enforcement of those laws as written. Thus, he had no authority to reopen the case to ponder the legal burden the laws might put on women's abortion rights.

"There is nothing here of which the Supreme Court was not aware when it decided the case," it said.

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