Women in Pa. looking out of state for abortions

February 14, 1994|By Newsday

PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania's abortion battle is crossing state lines.

Just across the border in New Jersey, telephone lines are lighting up at the Cherry Hill Women's Center as clinic workers field calls from those seeking a way to bypass one of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws.

"Provisions are in place to boost our operations," said Diane Straus, the center's administrator. "We are prepared to take care of women who need us."

South of the state line in Maryland, where the laws are somewhat less stringent, Diane Silas of Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services said her center is getting ready for what she said could be a "dramatic increase" in the number of Pennsylvania women, especially teen-agers, seeking to end their pregnancies.

And in New York, where abortion is available without restriction, efforts are under way to assemble volunteers willing to transport Pennsylvania women from bus and train stations to local clinics. "The network is in place," said Alexander Sanger, president of Planned Parenthood Inc. of New York City.

Abortion providers and women's health counselors throughout Pennsylvania have been operating in crisis mode since last Monday, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter paved the way for the implementation of the state's Abortion Control Act by refusing to grant a stay requested by six clinics.

Until now, Pennsylvania clinics have been operating in a liberal legal environment. But the new law, which the Supreme Court upheld two years ago, mirrors a Mississippi law generally considered the most restrictive in the nation.

Those obtaining an abortion in Pennsylvania will now be required to receive counseling about risks and alternatives to abortion -- including the opportunity to view printed materials describing the fetus at various stages of development. The women then are required to wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. And unmarried girls under 18 must get permission from a parent or judge.

Barring additional challenges, the new Abortion Control Act could be in effect within weeks if not days. It is anticipated that U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Huyett, in Reading, Pa., will soon lift his injunction barring the law's implementation and that state officials will then work out administrative details. The act was adopted by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1989, but implementation had been tied up in court.

Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, a Democrat who championed the act, and other anti-abortion activists argue that the law makes sense.

It is unclear whether there will be an increase in the number of births after implementation, said Vince Carocci, the governor's press secretary. Mr. Carocci added that there is no evidence that state residents will seek out-of-state abortions to avoid complying with the law.

He said state officials have appropriated at least $4 million annually and adopted a number of programs designed to assist unwed mothers and others who need help in raising their children.

But for those favoring abortion rights, the implementation of Pennsylvania's law represents a significant erosion of what they believe is a basic right women have been guaranteed since the Supreme Court issued the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973.

"This new law will have a very harsh impact on women's access to reproductive health care," said Linda Wharton, managing attorney of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia, a group that addresses the legal concerns of women. "We are particularly concerned about the impact that this will have on the most vulnerable: poor women, rural women, battered women and young women."

Over the past few weeks, there has been a 30 percent increase in abortions in the Philadelphia metropolitan area as women rushed to have the procedure done before the law goes into effect, Ms. Straus said, adding that many people incorrectly believe the new rules will ban the procedure in the state.

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