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The Court Stands Firm

Once again the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a state law seeking to restrict women’s access to abortions. Women in Pennsylvania will benefit because they will not face roadblocks designed to make them turn back from a decision that is never made lightly. But, more significantly, women around the country will benefit because the court denied the blunt attempt by the Reagan Administration to overturn entirely the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The Pennsylvania law required doctors to obtain consent from prospective abortion patients after telling them about “detrimental physical and psychological effects which are not accurately foreseeable” and about medical-assistance benefits available for prenatal care and childbirth. Thelaw instituted a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, and required doctors to complete certain reports that could be made public.

Writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision, Justice Harry A. Blackmun said, “States are not free, under the guise of protecting maternal health or potential life, to intimidate women into continuing pregnancies.”

Blackmun, who wrote the landmark 1973 opinion, acknowledged the bitter national debate over the abortion issue that “raises moral and spiritual questions over which honorable persons can disagree sincerely and profoundly.

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“But those disagreements did not then and do not now relieve us of our duty to apply the Constitution faithfully. Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy than a woman’s decision--with the guidance of her physician and within the limits specified in (the court’s 1973 ruling)--whether to end her pregnancy.”

The court decision should hearten legislators of courage and conviction in California and elsewhere who stand up to pressures to restrict women’s access to abortions.


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