The new abortion ruling

We favor working toward elimination of the abortion problem by addressing the fundamental moral, economic, educational, and physical factors that can bring a women to the cruel decision of whether to seek an abortion.

We do not oppose a woman's right to make that decision, as guaranteed in the United States by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling whose anniversary was yesterday. Now a federal district judge in Brooklyn has ruled more broadly than previous courts to make this right effective for indigent women as well as those who can afford abortions. This is in the spirit of the 1973 decision, and the Supreme Court would have to reject a formidable 642- page legal argument if it decides not to let Judge John Dooling Jr.'s ruling stand.

At issue is the "Hyde amendment," a name applied to perennial congressional efforts to limit federal payments toward abortions. The present version allows these payments only when a woman's life would be otherwise endangered or in cases of promptly reported rape or incest.

Judge Dooling ruled the Hyde amendment unconstitutional and ordered federal officials to resume the authorization of medicaid funds for "medically necessary abortions provided by duly certified providers." He defined "medically necessary" to include emotional, psychological, age, and other factors along with physical factors.

Since indigent women are helped to pay for other legal medical procedures under medicaid, the exclusion of this one procedure intrudes on their free choice. Some argue that those to whom abortion is abhorrent should not be required to pay taxes to fund the practice of it. However, the Supreme Court has, in effect, ruled against the nonpayment of taxes for reasons of conscience, and taxpayers subsidize various expenditures they may not approve.

One thing that distinguishes the ruling by Judge Dooling, himself a Roman Catholic, is the stress on protecting religious freedom under the First Amendment. He apparently did not accept the argument by some that the Hyde amendment's reflection of Catholic and evangelical belief runs afoul of the First Amendment's prohibition against any law establishing a religion. But he acknowledged that a woman's decision to have an abortion could be conscientiously exercised on the basis of her religious belief as protected by the First Amendment.

The Dooling judgment has been rightly hailed by advocates of separation of church and state. A Baptist spokesman got to the heart of the matter when he praised the ruling's support of the "inviolability of one's individual conscience in facing what is intrinsically a complex moral issue."

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