CITIZEN Ronald Reagan - sitting atop a trusty steed at his California ranch near Santa Barbara - may one day smile down on the nation and muse, ``We finally did it!'' He would be talking about the curbing, or outlawing, of abortion. A major political plank of the Reagan presidential years, the invalidation of key laws allowing voluntary termination of pregnancy will not likely be realized before the current White House occupant leaves office in January, but it could well come about in the next few years.
If abortion is limited or the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling protecting a woman's right to choose under a constitutional concept of privacy falls, President Reagan will have been the chief architect of that change.
He has been an all-time champion of the right-to-life movement. With his friend and political colleague Attorney General Edwin Meese III at his side, Reagan proposed a spate of litigation and legislation that would have pulled the reins on abortion.
Congress, however, refused to take up the cause. State lawmakers, for the most part, fell short of mustering support for anti-abortion statutes, and the United States Supreme Court lacked the votes for a turnaround.
But the winds appear to be changing. For instance:
A newly constituted Supreme Court - with the addition of Justice Anthony Kennedy - may be ready to retool Roe. The opportunity could well come in a variety of cases dealing with state regulation of abortion, fathers' rights, and the use of public funds for family planning.
State lawmakers are being deluged with a spate of proposed abortion-related bills, ranging from legislation that would mandate outright bans to those requiring notification of the parents of minors seeking to terminate pregnancies. Many believe that public opinion will pressure some significant anti-abortion moves during an election year.
Mainstream Protestant churches are starting to equivocate on their traditional freedom-of-choice stances. For instance, the American Baptists - after a three-year study by a task force - have backed away from the position that it was up to the individual. And the US Presbyterian Church is also reevaluating its pro-choice plank.
Federal and state jurists are split on aspects of the abortion issues. For example, a US District Court judge in New York recently upheld Reagan administration regulations banning federal funding for family-planning clinics that include abortion counseling and services among their programs. Courts in California and Massachusetts, however, swung the other way on this issue - possibly setting up a Supreme Court test.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has declared unconstitutional a White House policy withholding financial aid from private organizations that promote abortion as a form of worldwide family planning. The judge said, however, that foreign groups receiving US funds could be barred from using these funds for abortion services.
And an Indiana appellate court has removed an injunction that blocked a woman from having an abortion her husband wanted to stop. It cited Roe, which holds that state statutes that limit abortion in the first trimester are unconstitutional.
Also referred to was a 1976 Missouri case in which the US Supreme Court struck down a law that required a woman to have spousal approval before getting an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The relatively new issue of husbands' rights in conflict with a woman's right to privacy is almost certain to continue to swirl around the abortion controversy. Here again a Supreme Court test is virtually certain.
A Thursday column