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Supreme Court denies abortion appeal

The decision will allow Indiana to fully implement an 8-year-old abortion law - one of the nation's strictest.

©Associated Press
February 25, 2003


WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for an Indiana state law that places some of the nation's most severe restrictions on abortions, including requirements that a woman be counseled face-to-face about the risks and offered pictures of what her fetus might look like.

The high court turned down an appeal from abortion clinics in Indiana claiming the counseling sessions would force some women to forgo abortions or to risk their health by postponing the procedure far into pregnancy.

"This is an outrageous law that leaves many women without access to abortions, or certainly places a heavy burden, an undue burden, on a woman's right to choose," said Kate Michelman, president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

But Mike Fichter, executive director of Indiana Right to Life, an antiabortion group, said, "For the first time abortion providers in Indiana will be required to give women information about the risks. We're glad that the court battles look like they're finally over."

The high court action means that Indiana can begin fully enforcing a law passed eight years ago that requires counseling and an 18-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion.

In practice, the Indiana law and similar measures on the books in four other states require women to make two trips to an abortion clinic.

Opponents said that makes the procedure especially difficult to get for poor women, or those who must travel long distances.

Making two trips often means leaving work for two days, finding a place to stay overnight and arranging child care at home, said Janet Crepps, staff lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights. Women also might have a hard time explaining their absence from work, school or a husband or partner who does not know about the pregnancy, Crepps said.

Opponents of the Indiana law said research showed that similar laws in Mississippi and Utah forced women to put off abortions because of scheduling difficulties or travel out of state to have abortions.

Louisiana and Wisconsin also have similar counseling requirements.

The Supreme Court did not comment in rejecting the case, which could have offered a new opportunity to review when state restrictions on abortion become unconstitutional.

Nearly every state places some restriction on the availability of the procedure, including requirements that women wait a day or so after requesting an abortion and that they receive certain medical or legal information beforehand.

The high court has allowed a variety of restrictions, so long as they do not place an "undue burden" on a woman's ability to get an abortion.

Also Monday, the court:

-- Said they would consider how long police with a search warrant must wait before breaking down a door, using as a test case the arrest of a drug suspect who was in the shower when the SWAT team stormed in.

-- Agreed to consider two employee disability cases, including one that asks if companies that refuse to rehire rehabilitated drug addicts can be sued under a federal law that protects people with disabilities.

-- Agreed to review a clean-air case from Alaska that asks whether the federal government can overrule a state's day-to-day decisions on national environmental rules.

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