Supreme Court Treads in Middle on Abortion Decision Reflects Divided Public Opinion, but Left Both Sides on Casey Ruling Unhappy

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THE Supreme Court abortion decision on June 30 was promptly denounced by the now-familiar voices on either extreme - pro-choice and pro-life.

The court had split the difference. Pennsylvania is free to regulate abortions in many ways, but abortion cannot be banned or the right to obtain one obstructed with "undue" legal burdens.

The decision appears to closely mirror public opinion: The majority of Americans give high importance to both freedom of individual choice and the sanctity of individual life.

This means that if the abortion-rights forces hope to rouse the public to political action against the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court has not made it easy.

"Public opinion is strongly pro-choice and strongly pro-life," says Everett Carll Ladd, director of the Roper Center. "And both are held deeply and in a very powerful way.... In poll after poll, the public says, `Let's have restrictions but not absolute bans.' "

Kathy Romano, a mother of two in North Miami, Fla., says she finds it hard to characterize herself as strongly for or against abortion, but she agrees with most of the Supreme Court's decision. "I personally would never have had one. I'm definitely anti-abortion as a method of birth control," she says. But she adds that "no one has a right to tell you what to do with your body."

"I agree with every single {restriction} the court made," says Carolyn O'Donnell, a Kawasaki marketing executive in Orange County, Calif. "Abortion should be monitored. There are only certain circumstances when I think abortion is O.K., and it should never be a form of birth control."

Lynn McKever, a mother of two toddlers and a former Planned Parenthood volunteer in Flagstaff, Ariz., says the climate over abortion has caused her for the first time to consider casting her vote for president this fall solely on the abortion issue.

A registered Republican, she says she may vote for Bill Clinton this year because of his abortion-rights position, "although he doesn't suit me in other ways."

Don Kellerman, director of the Times-Mirror Center for public- opinion research, estimates that about 20 percent of the voting public on each side of the abortion question views it as a make- or-break issue in voting decisions. For between 60 and 70 percent, abortion is only one issue among many and highly mixed or ambivalent.

"Substantial majorities are pro-choice," says Mr. Kellerman. "But when you probe, you get majorities in favor of some of the very things that are in the Pennsylvania law."

THE court has now drawn some clearer lines about what restrictions to abortion are and are not permitted. …