WASHINGTON -- Another state got a federal court's permission yesterday to enforce a waiting period for women seeking abortions, but also was put on notice that the women should be able to end a pregnancy on the first visit to a doctor.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, upholding a law enacted in 1991 in North Dakota, said that the law's required 24-hour waiting period could start with a telephone call so that the women need travel only once to a clinic.
Although the Circuit Court did not say flatly that the Constitution requires the single-visit opportunity, it strongly implied that the law would have been struck down without it because the law would put an "undue burden" on the right to abortion.
The court stressed that if the law does not enable a woman to end a pregnancy on a first visit to a doctor, abortion-rights lawyers may come back with another constitutional challenge.
Those parts of the decision were considered a significant legal breakthrough by abortion-rights lawyers, especially for women who live in states with few abortion clinics who may have to travel some distance for the operation.
North Dakota, in fact, has only one clinic, in Fargo.
A single visit to a clinic not only could reduce the cost of travel but could also help a woman avoid two encounters with anti-abortion demonstrators on the sidewalks outside the clinics.
North Dakota officials have indicated they will start enforcing the law in about three weeks.
Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter on Monday allowed Pennsylvania to put its 1988 and 1989 laws into effect for the first time.