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Court asked to delay Pa. laws curbing abortion


WASHINGTON -- Women's rights groups, preparing to take the Pennsylvania abortion case back to the Supreme Court, asked a lower federal court yesterday to bar that state's anti-abortion laws from taking effect tomorrow.

Lawyers for five Pennsylvania abortion clinics and a doctor urged the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to delay the laws' enforcement until the Supreme Court can react to a new appeal to be filed next month. Because the Supreme Court is unlikely to consider that appeal until April, such a delay could run at least three months.

Pennsylvania's laws against abortion have existed since 1988 and 1989 but have not taken effect because of a long-running lawsuit over their constitutionality. That dispute led to the court's 1992 ruling that partly reaffirmed the basic right to abortion.

The 1992 ruling, the women's rights groups said in legal papers filed yesterday, created a new test for judging the constitutionality of state abortion restrictions. They said the Pennsylvania laws should be judged by that standard before taking effect.

The Circuit Court ruled earlier this month that the clinics and the doctor would have to wait to pursue any new constitutional challenge until the laws had taken effect, so that a judge could examine the laws' practical effect on the right to abortion. Thus, the Circuit Court said, the laws could now be enforced.

This is the ruling the clinics will be contesting in their new appeal to the Supreme Court. To permit that appeal, they asked the Circuit Court to delay its own ruling.

In the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling, the majority struck down a requirement that pregnant women in Pennsylvania tell their husbands before getting an abortion.

But the majority upheld all other provisions, including a requirement that women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion and listen to a state-required lecture by a doctor about the nature of the fetus and risks of abortion.

The decision also upheld a requirement that teen-agers living with their parents get the consent of a parent or a state judge for an abortion.

The clinics' lawyers contended that they can show, even before the laws take effect, that all provisions of the Pennsylvania law will fail under the new standard spelled out by the Supreme Court.

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