New abortion issue headed for court showdowns
Boston — Antiabortion activists and "freedom of choice forces" are squaring off anew from Maine to Utah. Public funding of abortions for poor women is not the issue; that is soon to be resolved by the US Supreme Court. But heading for court showdowns in a number of states is the question of how far the government can go to restrict termination of an unwanted pregnancy.
During the past 2 1/2 years, 12 states and a city in a 13th have passed measures providing sometimes-complex procedures before a woman undergoes an abortion, including either a one- or a two-day waiting period.
Within recent weeks the Kentucky and Massachusetts legislatures have passed such controversial measures, while in a Toledo, Ohio, referendum voters rejected a similar proposal.
Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others fighting antiabortion legislation as a violation of human rights are elated over Toledo's better than 2-to-1 rejection of the referendum.
"The people of Toledo made it clear they do not want such an ordinance," asserts Janet Benshoff of ACLU's New York headquarters. The ACLU and its allies have been largely unsuccessful at the legislative level at blocking passage of laws making it more difficult to get an abortion. But thus far they have been able to at least temporarily thwart in court the implementation of what they consider objectionable portions of these statutes.
However, none of this litigation has been resolved. And in most instances months of legal battling may be ahead, with the issue perhaps finally decided by the US Supreme Court.
A particularly tough battle may be taking shape over a Massachusetts challenge, filed in federal district court the same day the new abortion statute was signed into law by Gov. Edward J. King.
The measure, described by its backers as a "model for the rest of the nation" requires:
* That physicians and clinics provide women seeking abortions with a so-called "informed description of the procedure that would be used to end the pregnancy and a warning of possible medical complications. It also includes a list of alternatives to abortion and advises that no woman can be denied public assistance because she has decided against having an abortion.
* A one-day waiting period between the decision to have an abortion and the abortion itself.
* Parental consent or court permission before an unmarried woman under 18 has an abortion. This provision, similar to those in abortion statutes being challenged in Maine and some other states, appears to fly in the face of a 1979 US Supreme Court decision that struck down a 1974 Massachusetts law mandating parental approval before a minor could have an abortion. But sponsors of the new measure contend it is so carefully drawn as to defy a successful challenge.
Besides Kentucky, Maine, and Massachusetts, similar abortion laws have been enacted in Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah, and in Akron, Ohio.