WASHINGTON — IF the US Supreme Court overturns the constitutional right to abortion, women in Louisiana, Utah, and Missouri will be the most likely of all American women to lose access to abortion, according to a study by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
Women in California, Washington State, and Connecticut will be the most likely to retain wide access to abortion, concludes the survey, which ranks each state according to the abortion stands of its governor and legislature and state laws regulating abortion.
The report predicts that 14.6 million women of child-bearing age (15 to 45, for the purposes of the survey) in 13 states would be "at immediate risk" if the Supreme Court were to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion as a constitutionally protected right.
Those 13 states, listed in order of likelihood - Louisiana, Utah, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and South Dakota - are "likely" to ban abortion immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned, NARAL concludes. Louisiana and Utah have already passed laws banning most abortions.
The increasingly conservative Supreme Court may explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade in its current session, or at least let stand a Pennsylvania law limiting abortion, a move that would effectively nullify Roe.
"We now stand on a legal precipice on which the Supreme Court will very soon decide whether women's lives and health will continue to be protected by the United States Constitution," NARAL executive director Kate Michelman told a press briefing Tuesday.
"As we did this study," she said, "we found that, as this historic election year begins, nearly 15 million women are at immediate risk of losing their right to choose and of having their health, their lives, and their families' futures jeopardized by a crisis pregnancy."
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nation's largest anti-abortion group, decried the NARAL study as "posturing" to rally support for congressional legislation called the "Freedom of Choice Act of 1991," which would make broad abortion rights the law of the land.
"They want to energize their supporters and say 'the sky is falling; go out and defeat George Bush," says Burke Balch, state legislative director of NRLC.
Mr. Balch also complains that the study is "riddled with inaccuracies."
Ms. Michelman of NARAL describes the ranking as "just a snapshot of the political landscape at this moment in time," a landscape that "can change dramatically tomorrow."
Though California is rated as the "lowest-risk" state, she says, reapportionment and elections may change the legislature.
The study, called "Who Decides? A State-by-State Review of Abortion Rights," is NARAL's third since 1989. Its 1989 study found that 16 governors supported keeping abortion legal, compared with 27 in 1991 and 29 in 1992.
Michelman attributes the change to a decrease in the number of governors whose positions are unknown. The number of governors who support banning abortion has decreased from 23 in 1989 to 21 in 1992, Michelman says.
The "good news," she continues, is that 54 of the 99 state legislative bodies support keeping abortion legal, up from 23 in 1989.
NARAL, which calls itself "the political arm of the pro-choice movement," with 500,000 members, plans to spend $4 million in the '92 elections. Michelman announced a campaign to identify more than a million pro-choice voters this year.