Roe V. Wade Turns 30, Faces an Uncertain Future. (Older Providers Not Being Replaced)

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- This month marks the 30-year anniversary of the precedent-setting Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion a legal option for all women in the United States.

In the decades since 1973, Roe v. Wade has remained the law of the land despite many significant legal and political challenges. But advocates for abortion rights and reproductive freedom who gathered for a press conference sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation say the law faces even greater challenges in the coming years.

"A whole generation of women has grown up never knowing there was a time when abortion was not a legal option. But the abortion issue is by no means resolved," said Tina Hoff, the Kaiser Family Foundation's vice president and director of public health information.

Kathryn Kolbert, a lawyer who is widely credited with "saving" Roe v. Wade when it was directly challenged in the Supreme Court in 1992, said the Supreme Court has consistently struck down efforts to ban abortion at the federal level, thus safeguarding Roe v. Wade.

But since the 1980s, the Supreme Court has granted the states increasing latitude to create various types of restrictions and regulations that limit abortion services. For women in some states, Roe v. Wade does little to guarantee their actual free access to abortion services, said Ms. Kolbert, senior research administrator at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia.

State-level challenges to Roe v. Wade come in five general forms, she said:

1. State laws regulating clinical performance of abortion. This approach, which involves governing clinical settings, types of procedures, and practitioner qualifications, has its roots in early efforts to make abortion safer. In many cases, though, the rules have become increasingly restrictive and seem designed to limit access rather than protect health, Ms. Kolbert said. A good example is the requirement in many states for surgical backup in any clinic providing mifepristone (Mifeprex) or other forms of medical abortion. This rule created disincentives for physicians who would otherwise be willing to offer nonsurgical abortions, she added.

2. Restrictions based on marital status. Since the mid-1970s, several states have tried to mandate spousal notification and consent before abortion. While these moves have been challenged and struck down by the federal Supreme Court, this strategy remains a perennial challenge, albeit one that has been fairly quiescent in recent years. …