The United States Supreme Court has left teetering what might be the last opportunity for the courts to limit abortion during the Reagan years. A 4-to-4 vote, announced Monday, keeps intact a federal appeals court ruling that struck down an Illinois law requiring women under 18 who are seeking abortions to wait 24 hours for the purpose of parental notification.
This action once again places under close scrutiny the implied right of privacy in the United States Constitution that liberals have embraced for more than two decades and many conservatives are now challenging.
It also puts a brighter spotlight on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings now in progress on the nomination of Judge Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court.
Some civil rights groups have expressed dismay that Judge Kennedy has not clearly enunciated support for the privacy concept. The National Organization for Women opposes his appointment, partly for this reason. It is unclear, however, how the conser vative Reagan high court nominee would come down on the abortion issue if confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
There will almost certainly be pressure on the justices from right-to-life groups to rehear the abortion matter in 1988, after a ninth justice is seated. But there is no guarantee they will do so.
Half of the states have laws requiring some form of parental notice or consent before teenagers can have abortions.
Restriction or outlawing of abortion has been a major social plank of the Reagan administration. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, among others, has strongly pushed for a reconsideration of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade high court ruling allowing abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, with state guidelines governing the legality of abortions in the final six months of pregnancy.
But the Justice Department admits it has not yet found a case that would directly challenge the basic assumptions of privacy enunciated in Roe.
Some who oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds have urged the Supreme Court to declare that an unborn fetus is a human life with all the rights of a person outside the womb. Such a finding would have the effect of outlawing abortion.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion forces have attempted to chip away at the 1973 decision through tighter state reins on the practice.
During the past 15 years, various state statutes requiring physicians to dissuade young women from abortions and allowing the performing of this operation only in hospitals have been struck down in the courts as unconstitutionally intrusive on a woman's privacy rights.
The Illinois law required that unmarried pregnant girls who were financially dependent on their families notify both parents 24 hours before having an abortion.
There was provision, however, for waiving this stipulation if the young woman could prove that she was mature enough to make her own decision and that parental notification would not be in her own best interest.
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, upholding a lower federal court, invalidated the one-day waiting period.
But it left intact the requirement for parental notification and the allowance of judicial permission.
Monday's Supreme Court action opened the door for further clarification of this issue through rehearing of the Illinois case or new appeals from other states where consent statutes are being challenged.
Meanwhile, several states are embroiled in controversies over public funding of abortions for low-income women.