Abortion Issue Moves to Congress Supreme Court Decision in Rust V. Sullivan Is Bellwether for Future Challenges to Roe V. Wade. JUSTICE

Article excerpt

IN one stroke, the United States Supreme Court has thrown the women's movement into a frenzy, federally funded family-planning clinics into crisis, and pro-choice advocates in Congress into high gear. It has also raised questions about the rights of people and organizations that accept federal funds.

The court's 5-to-4 decision last week to uphold a US government regulation that forbids federally financed clinics from discussing abortion means that 4,000 facilities around the country face a choice of limiting their speech or giving up their subsidies. Funds or information?

Some clinics announced immediately that they will do without the funds rather than withhold information, saying they do not wish to act "unethically" in their dealings with patients. But they hope that legislation in Congress designed to override the court's decision can be enacted before they would have to comply with the ruling, made in a case called Rust v. Sullivan.

In the meantime, both sides in the emotionally fraught abortion debate have stepped up their battle in the news media.

"The Supreme Court has rejected the bizarre concept that the Constitution or `medical ethics' require that abortion be treated the same as contraception," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

Mr. Johnson called the decision "a defeat for those organizations that demand tax dollars to promote abortion as a `family-planning option.' "

Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said after the ruling was announced: "We see (the May 23) landmark decision of the Supreme Court an outrageous and unimaginable blow, not just to women and clinics, but to free speech in this country."

The regulation requires clinics that receive federal Title X funds - the part of a 1970 law that finances and regulates clinics - to refer pregnant patients for prenatal care. If a woman asks any questions about abortion, such as where she can get one, the counselor or doctor is required to state that the clinic "does not consider abortion an appropriate method of family planning."

For three years, court orders have prevented the regulation, announced in 1988 under the Reagan administration, from being implemented. Now the way is clear for enactment, which will take place in about two months. Legislative action

The only way the regulation can be overturned is through congressional legislation. In the Senate and the House of Representatives an amendment has been introduced to the bill funding Title X, which currently provides $141 million - $30 million to Planned Parenthood alone - to clinics that serve some 4 million women a year.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. John Chafee (R) of Rhode Island and Reps. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon and John Porter (D) of Illinois, states that clinics should provide pregnant women with "non-directive information about prenatal care and delivery, adoption, foster care, and termination of pregnancy. …


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