THE ABORTION DECISION : Pro-Choice Groups Plan ‘War’; Foes to Seek Still More Curbs

Times Staff Writer

The Supreme Court’s tightening of restrictions on abortion ignited fireworks on both sides of the emotional issue Monday, and the fury is expected to grow.

Abortion rights activists, outraged that the court had dealt what some saw as a “near-fatal blow” to its 1973 decision making abortion legal, vowed to strike back in ballot initiatives and election contests across the country.

“We are in a war . . . . We will go around the courts and the legislatures and we will go directly to the people,” Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, declared. Not long before she spoke, the court, splitting 5 to 4, had upheld state curbs on access to abortions and suggested that it would consider allowing more restrictions.

‘Vietnam of the 1990s’


Judith Widdecombe, founder of Reproductive Health Services, the Missouri clinic involved in the court case, said: “There’s a movement in this country that will not tolerate this. It will become our Vietnam of the 1990s.”

“This should be a wake-up call to the pro-choice people,” said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.).

In the other camp, anti-abortion groups welcomed the ruling and pledged to push for even greater gains through legislation and lawsuits--and continued demonstrations against abortion clinics.

President Bush, who supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, said that the high court’s latest action “appears to have begun to restore to the people the ability to protect the unborn.”


To Continue Challenges

Judie Brown, president of American Life League, said that anti-abortionists will “continue to challenge the court by referendum, state law and lawsuit to define for us that life begins at fertilization"--thus, officially making abortion murder.

Meanwhile, Randall Terry, director of Operation Rescue, which has attempted to shut down abortion clinics, called the ruling both “a tremendous victory for the pro-life side” and a “faltering step” because most abortions are unaffected.

“Within the next 10 days, you will see thousands of arrests around the country as people block these abortion mills to save children,” he proclaimed on the Supreme Court’s steamy marble plaza, where dozens of demonstrators and group spokesmen held forth after the ruling.


Activists on both sides said that the ruling had set the stage for a white-hot political debate.

“Add this abortion decision to the reapportionment fights, and I think you have the damnedest political campaign season this country will have seen in generations,” said Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.), who called the court’s ruling “nightmarish.”

Face Redistricting Issue

AuCoin was referring to the fact that state legislatures already face the politically thorny task of redrawing congressional district lines after the 1990 census. Now that the Supreme Court has invited legislatures to write laws restricting abortion, even greater fights loom.


“This (abortion) issue, which has been somewhat marginal, will be right up at the head of the parade in terms of galvanizing different groups,” said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who has successfully pressed amendments that restrict federal funding of abortions for poor women.

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), suddenly confronting the issue in his bid to be elected governor next year, said that the decision Monday “wisely leaves Roe vs. Wade unchanged in the fundamental respect that it leaves to the pregnant woman the choice as to whether to carry her pregnancy to term.”

A reversal of that “fundamental right,” he said, “would take us back to back-alley medical treatment and self-administered abortions.”

Although Wilson supports Roe vs. Wade, he also backs the curbs on federal funding of abortions in the Hyde amendments.


Cranston Dismayed

Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) expressed dismay at the court’s decision. If state legislatures respond by enacting laws with varying restrictions on abortion, he predicted, “inequalities will become rampant.”

Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), a vocal foe of abortion, called the ruling “the beginning of turning back to sanity.” But he added that “this is just the beginning of a long, tough fight in 50 states. We all know that the so-called elitist, sophisticated states--mine and the land of my birth, New York--will become abortion mills.”

Norma Nelson McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the Roe vs. Wade case, which established a constitutional right to abortion, said Monday she was glad that the U.S. Supreme Court had not overturned that landmark 1973 decision, but she added: “I am a little angry for what they have done.


“Poor women are going to be suffering again as they were before the 1973 decision,” she said at a Los Angeles news conference at the office of feminist attorney Gloria Allred. “That worries me a great deal because I am one of them.”

Frank Susman, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the Reproductive Health Services clinic, whose case was the subject of the court’s ruling Monday, suggested that the “near-fatal blow” to Roe vs. Wade “will continue to hemorrhage into the fall. Perhaps the fatal blow will come with the three (additional abortion) cases that the court today has agreed to accept.”

Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, protested that the court “cracked the foundation of privacy that has been the basis for personal decisions about abortion for decades. Women’s lives hang by a thread, and the justices this morning handed politicians a pair of scissors.”

Bush ‘Pandering’ Claimed


Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, accused Bush of “political pandering” in his backing of efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Staff writers Michael Ybarra, Lori Silver and Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.