The Supreme Court, dominated by anti-choice justices appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush, ruled in 1992 that the constitutional right to have an abortion does not prohibit a state from requiring a 24-hour waiting period, preceded by a state-imposed lecture by a physician. This is called "informed consent."
The court rationalized its decision by asserting that such a requirement is not an "undue burden" on the woman and is "reasonable." Reasonable? Ask any woman who has faced this requirement:
She has found that the state law was designed to harass her into not getting an abortion, and that the experience is burdensome, expensive and humiliating.
She has found that the actual delay is much more than 24 hours, caused by any one of such factors as the unavailability of the physician, crowded clinic schedules, her inability to take additional time off from work, school or family.
She has found that the multiple clinic visits enable anti-choice protesters to record her license plate number, obtain her name and address and then harass her and her family at home.
She has been told that a list of public mental health agencies is available "if and when postpartum psychological damage requires professional attention."
She has been given a brochure with full-color enlarged photos of fetuses, similar to those seen on anti-abortionists' signs.
She may have driven six hours to reach the clinic, been forced to spend the night, or perhaps nights, in a motel. She may have to take two or more days off from a low-wage job and pay for child care. Some women have spent nights in their cars. Others have hitchhiked to the clinic in the dead of winter.
The Supreme Court has stopped short of allowing states to prohibit abortions. Today, a woman has the right to have an abortion but not to freely enter a clinic to have one. She can make the decision to go ahead but only after the state has made cruel efforts to dissuade her.
The Freedom of Choice Act, which comes up for consideration in the next few weeks, will not prevent the harassment and violence by anti-abortion fanatics outside clinics. What the legislation can do is prevent states from aiding this harassment and extending it inside the clinics.