Massachusetts abortion decision may be headed for US high court

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For the second time in three years, a controversial Massachusetts antiabortion law seems headed for a US Supreme Court showdown. The justices, whose 1973 landmark decision upheld the right of women to have unwanted pregnancies terminated, soon may be asked to rule on the legality of follow-up restrictive measures pushed through by "pro-life" forces.

At issue are:

1. Can women seeking abortions be forced to wait 24 hours?

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2. Must parental consent or approval of a judge be obtained before a minor can obtain an abortion?

These perennial questions were raised anew when a Feb. 9 federal court upheld the latter consent provision enacted last June.

At the same time, however, the three- judge panel struck down the similarly mandated one-day waiting period. Also found unconstitutional was a requirement that before a woman could have an abortion she would be required to read a state-provided detailed description of fetal development, which is intended to convince her to complete the pregnancy.

Both sides in the litigation -- the attorney general representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Planned Parenthood League representing freedom of choice interests -- have indicated they might appeal the portions of the ruling that went against them. Neither, however, has committed itself as to such a move.

The outcome could have broad impact across the nation.

At least five other states -- Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee, -- and the city of Akron, Ohio, have similar 24- hour or 48-hour waiting-period requirements. Most, however, have, at least temporarily, been blocked from going into affect.

Similar legislation is under consideration in several other states.

The current measure replaced a more restrictive statute struck down in July 1979 by the US Supreme Court.

Unlike the former law, the current challenged parental consent statute provides an alternative which allows a judge to authorize an abortion appro val.

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