Supreme Court affirms critical abortion right

Nebraska ban: Justices overturn late-term prohibition

issue becomes key in presidential contest.

June 29, 2000

HERE'S A question about abortion:

Why was the right to an abortion protected by the Supreme Court in 1973?

Answer: to stop death.

Women were dying in significant numbers trying to end crisis pregnancies. The Roe vs. Wade ruling ensured that women have a basic right to end a pregnancy -- and not sacrifice their lives or health in the process.

Pro-life supporters argue that now, to protect women, innocent potential lives are lost to grisly abortion procedures. It is a wrenching choice. But the high court said again yesterday, in a 5-4 ruling, that the overriding imperative is to protect the woman's health.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial yesterday incorrectly identified Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. The Sun regrets the error.

The case before the court, a Nebraska law that banned "partial birth abortions," sought to imperil, not protect, women.

Justice Stephen Breyer said for the majority that the law created an undue burden on women and lacked the required provision to allow abortion to preserve a woman's health.

But it didn't lack the smoke-and-mirrors manipulation used so masterfully by the pro-life movement. The term "partial-birth abortion" is clever and inflammatory, devoid of medical or legal meaning, and esoteric enough to cover a ban on other procedures.

This was not a case simply about one type of abortion procedure -- the very right itself was at risk.

And still is. "This is a victory for the moment," said Rebecca Geidner-Antoniotti, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, adding that the issue now lands squarely in the presidential contest.

She's right. Republican George W. Bush (who says he supports abortion in some cases) favors such bans, which 30 other states have; Democrat Al Gore opposes them. While President Clinton has successfully vetoed conservative legislators' attempts to ban late-term abortions, the next president may not be so inclined. Moreover, the next president will likely appoint several justices to the Supreme Court.

A 5-4 ruling next time could easily go the other way.

Politicians playing doctor and abortion opponents playing God are a dangerous combination for this country. It is time to accept a woman's right to choose to end a pregnancy and move on.

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