Abortion opponents nearly won late 1980s court battle
By Mike Wereschagin
Published: Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
In the late 1980s, the anti-abortion movement appeared to be on the cusp of victory, with Pennsylvania leading the charge.
Gov. Bob Casey, a Roman Catholic and anti-abortion Democrat, took office in 1987, six months after the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling against Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act showed the constitutional right to abortion rested on a slim margin.
Casey in 1989 shepherded through the Legislature another set of abortion restrictions, designed in part to mount another Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade, said then-Attorney General Ernie Preate.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the law's restrictions on Oct. 21, 1991. Two days later, Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the court's most conservative members, replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had joined the original majority in Roe v. Wade. Abortion foes had their vote.
“The handwriting was on the wall,” said Kathryn Kolbert, then a lawyer with the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia who argued the cases against Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh's and Casey's abortion laws.
Kolbert's team wanted the court to rule before the 1992 presidential election, so abortion rights would become a campaign issue. They filed a Supreme Court appeal in two weeks, asking the court to rule explicitly on Roe v. Wade.
“If we were going to lose, we needed to convince the American people what was at stake,” Kolbert said.
Ken Starr, solicitor general for President George H.W. Bush, joined Preate for oral arguments on April 22, 1992. Theirs was a two-pronged assault, Preate said. He defended the law's restrictions, and Starr argued the court should overturn Roe.
The court delivered its opinion on the session's final day, June 29. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was expected to vote to overturn Roe, joined Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter in a dramatic switch that preserved abortion rights while upholding most of Casey's law.
“It literally took me five or six hours to process what had happened,” Kolbert said. “My early comments (to reporters) were all about how they blew a hole in Roe ... but at the end of the day, I realized, ‘Oh my God, we won this case.'”
Preate, too, claims victory. Pennsylvania's law became an example for states looking to restrict abortion rights, he said, even though Roe v. Wade is a “precedent (that) has been ingrained into the American culture for 40 years.”
Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates argue
- Western Pa. counties weigh shale gas drilling on public land
- PSU gift failed ‘gut check’ for top open records officer
- Amish shooter’s mother finds comfort in forgiveness
- Pa. to vie for Boeing plant
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates for transparency argue
- Grants aren’t the same old payouts, Corbett says
- Former postmaster pleads guilty
- Corbett seeks approval for Medicaid alternative
- Painting displayed in Johnstown honors fallen Pa. National Guard aviators