The Supreme Court, acting on an appeal urging reversal of its landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, agreed Monday to review a Missouri law regulating abortions.
The justices said they will study a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key provisions of the state law.Even before Monday's action, the Missouri case had become the most-watched battleground in the continuing political war over abortion. Justice Department lawyers also are urging the high court to use the case as a means of undoing its 1973 ruling, called Roe vs. Wade.
The court's eventual decision, expected by July, could resolve the Missouri controversy without significantly changing the 1973 decision or other past rulings on abortion.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July 13 struck down, among other aspects of the Missouri abortion law, these five provisions:
-A ban on using public hospitals or other government-run facilities for abortions not necessary to save a woman's life.
-A ban prohibiting any public employee from performing or assisting an abortion.
-A ban on using taxpayer money for "encouraging or counseling" women to have abortions.
-A requirement that doctors planning to abort a fetus believed to be older than 19 weeks test for weight and lung capacity to determine whether the fetus iscapable of surviving outside the womb.
-A declaration that "the life of each human being begins at conception."
The appeals court upheld a provision in the state law that bans the use of taxpayer money for performing or assisting an abortion. But it said use of a public facility or the services of a public employee cannot be banned if all such costs are reimbursed by a patient.
In the appeal acted on Monday, Missouri Attorney General William L. Webster said the 8th Circuit court's ruling "expands (Supreme Court) precedents in favor of abortion on demand, further contracts the state's compelling interest in the life of viable, unborn children and disregards this court's holdings that abortion is a private matter which government need in no way subsidize."
The 1973 decision should itself be reconsidered if it cannot be squared with the disputed Missouri law, Webster said.
William Bradford Reynolds, then chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division, wrote to Missouri officials last summer urging them to include a challenge of Roe vs. Wade in the state's appeal.
"I felt this was the best case on the horizon to undertake reconsideration of Roe," Reynolds told The Wall Street Journal.
In a brief filed two days after the presidential election last Nov. 8, Justice Department lawyers supported Missouri's appeal.
That sparked Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, to accuse the Justice Department of "declaring war on the women of this country."