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Justices Hear Arguments In Pa. Abortion-Law Case

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WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the closely-watched challenge to a Pennsylvania law placing restrictions on abortion, including the requirement that minors obtain the "informed consent'' of one parent or a judge's permission before ending their pregnancy.

The consent provision was not specifically discussed during the hour-long argument on April 22 in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (Case No. 91-744).

Kathryn Kolbert, the lawyer for the clinics and doctors who challenged the law, told the Justices that the restrictions are incompatible with the High Court's prior decision in the case Roe v. Wade that women have a fundamental right of access to abortion.

Some Justices suggested, however, that it might be possible to uphold some of the restrictions without overturning Roe.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for example, said the "parameters'' of a fundamental right can be addressed in a "case-by-case basis.''

The Supreme Court last addressed minors' access to abortions in a pair of cases decided in 1990. In Hodgson v. Minnesota, the Court upheld two-parent notification requirements, provided that a judicial bypass option is available. In Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the Justices upheld a judicial-bypass mechanism included in Ohio's parental-consent law.

The High Court first required a judicial-bypass option in a 1979 case, Belloti v. Baird.

The Pennsylvania law's opponents argue that its parental-consent provision is faulty because it requires parents to undergo the same face-to-face counseling that adult women seeking an abortion must get.

In a brief filed with the Court, Ernest D. Preate Jr., the state's attorney general, wrote that "the point of requiring parental consent is not to collect a meaningless signature, but to provide the pregnant minor with the benefit of an adult's advice and judgement.''

That objective, he continued, is "not achievable if the adult is herself not cognizant of these matters.''

A decision in the case is expected by early July.

In other action last week, the Court:

  • Refused to review a Pennsylvania court's decision to deny unemployment benefits to a woman who was fired from her job at a Catholic high school after revealing her plans to marry a divorced Protestant man whose prior marriage to a Catholic had not been annulled.

The case was Wesley v. Pennsylvania Unemployment Commission Board of Review (No. 91-1365).

  • Let stand an affirmative-action plan for the Philadelphia police department that includes racial-hiring quotas.

The case was Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Philadelphia (No. 91-1217).--M.W.

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