Their cause is the unborn, their intent is to make the Supreme Court change its mind. This month -- as the court hears the most closely watched abortion case in 15 years -- Samuel Lee and Andrew Puzder could be nearing their goal. IN THE FALL OF 1983, ON A GRAY SUNDAY MORNING IN WESTERN ST. LOUIS, a 33-year-old Missouri business lawyer named Andrew Puzder wrote this idea on the back of an envelope: The general assembly of this state finds that the life of each human being begins at conception. He had been jogging as he thought of it, and now he sat in his study and considered with some pleasure what seemed to him the irresistible legal bait suggested by his own penciled script. What if the Missouri state legislature adopted such a law -- but said nothing about outlawing abortion? What if the legislature enacted a law declaring that the rights of state citizens extended to all "unborn children," as Puzder imagined the law might phrase it, but that the law itself was subordinate to the Constitution and its interpretation by the United States Supreme Court? There was only one interpretation that mattered, of course, and that was Roe v. Wade. Puzder had grown up Catholic, but his family had never dwelled on the morality of abortion; it was not until a law class at St. Louis' Washington University that he first read the only Supreme Court opinion of the last 20 years that most literate Americans know by name. Puzder was appalled by the opinion, particularly its observation that the state ought not declare when human life begins because physicians and philosophers and religious scholars had never agreed on that question themselves. Physicians and philosophers and religious scholars had never agreed on much of anything, as far as Puzder could see, and in the late 1970s, as he began to volunteer as defense counsel for anti-abortion demonstrators, Puzder sometimes called doctors to the stand to repeat what he had always believed was the most blazingly self-evident element of human biology: Life, Puzder's expert witnesses would say, begins at conception. So all he was doing, Puzder reasoned, was proposing the state of Missouri say that, too. A few other states had written language about the beginnings of human life into their abortion laws, but Puzder thought Missouri might make its pronouncement without discussing abortion at all. If they were accused of defying the instructions of Roe v. Wade, Missouri legislators could argue that they were simply giving solid foundation to the rights some courts had already granted to the human fetus -- rights of inheritance, for example, or the right to sue for personal injury. Which might force a certain contradiction, as Puzder saw it: One page of the statute book would define the fetus as a human being, and another page of the statute book would lay out the rules for a procedure whose ethical underpinnings seemed to Puzder to demand the fetus be defined as a body part, or a "potential life," or as anything but a human being. Abortion rights groups were not going to like this at all. Somebody, sooner or later, was going to challenge it in court. And if Ronald Reagan had five years left in office, as Puzder assumed he probably did, then the retiring justices of the Supreme Court were due for replacement by a president who had publicly declared that he believed abortion to be the killing of human life. A new court was imminent, a court almost certainly shifting position on the question Puzder cared about most, and who knew what this court might do if suitably provoked? Everything Puzder wanted hinged on some uncertain union of strategy and chance, but that was the nature of the work; for the past 10 years, ever since Roe v. Wade first described the decision to abort as a largely private matter protected by the American Constitution, men and women who believed that no moral distinction separated abortion from infanticide had shoved whatever they could in the direction of a Supreme Court that might someday say, Wait, we've changed our minds. Lawsuits over abortion funding, lawsuits over abortion for minors, lawsuits brought by men who wanted to call embryos "unborn children" and claim custody before the women could abort -- a kind of desperate cross-country chess game had lasted into its second decade, each new realignment fixed firmly on the famous decision itself, and Andrew Puzder was about to commence the next move. THIS MONTH, IN A COURTROOM CROWDED WITH LAWYERS and activists who spend their days working for or against the right to a legal abortion, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in what has become the most intently watched abortion case of the last 15 years. There are men and women on both sides of the abortion debate who remember precisely how they learned the court had agreed to hear this case, and then how quickly they picked up the telephone to spread the word: Elated Missouri pro-life organizers called Andrew Puzder at his office, National Organization for Women leaders immediately refocused the theme of today's Women's March on Washington, and National Abortion Rights Action League Director Kate Michelman wrote a press release in which she quoted from an anonymous woman's recollection of her illegal pre-Roe abortion at the hands of a man who drank whisky throughout the procedure. "In taking this case, the court invoked memories of the not-so-distant past when women risked their lives to end pregnancies they could not continue," Michelman wrote. "The fate of millions of American women quite literally hangs in the balance." The case is called William L. Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, after the attorney general of Missouri and a St. Louis abortion clinic. Their battle focuses on a bill that was adopted by the Missouri legislature in April 1986 and was never fully implemented because attorneys for Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood immediately attacked the law's constitutionality in court. It is a complicated piece of legislation, addressing within its 11 pages a wide array of restrictions on the performing of abortions in Missouri, and its opening lines read as follows: The general assembly of this state finds that: (1) The life of each human being begins at conception; (2) Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being; (3) The natural parents of unborn children have protectable interests in the life, health, and well-being of their unborn child. The justices of the court will hear argument that this language is unconstitutional even though it says nothing about abortion; that it leads off an abortion bill, and Roe v. Wade forbids states from adopting any one theory about the beginnings of human life to justify their abortion laws. The justices will hear argument that the Missouri legislature has overstepped its constitutional bounds by barring public hospital abortions and limiting what publicly salaried counselors may say about abortion. They will hear, if the oral argument parallels the language of written briefs now before the court (see box, Page 25), that American women in every state must be permitted the wide access to legal abortion that was promised in Roe v. Wade, that denying that access would "reinstate the untold misery and deaths of thousands of women from illegal operations." The justices will also hear argument that all of this is wrong, that nothing in the Constitution prevents a state from controlling abortion the way the Missouri legislature is trying to do. They will hear that two lower courts were wrong when they struck down parts of the Missouri abortion bill, that every challenged passage is permissible even under the guidelines of Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade appears to stand in the way, the justices will be told, then Roe itself -- the entire ruling, with its references to privacy rights and its prohibitions on state interference in early abortions -- should be examined all over again. The justices could decline to make that examination, and then declare the Missouri law unconstitutional. They could uphold all or parts of the Missouri law and still decline to say anything sweeping about Roe v. Wade. They could uphold all or parts of the Missouri law and suggest as they do so that states can now regulate abortion more strictly than they have in the past -- what both pro-life and abortion rights groups have called a "chipping away" of the Roe guidelines. Or the court could reverse Roe v. Wade entirely, declaring that the opinion was wrongly decided, and return all control over abortion law to the states. The justices who reach this decision will not be the men who voted 7-2 in favor of Roe v. Wade; only four of the original Roe supporters still sit on the court. Of the other five justices, one is Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor, who has already written two lengthy abortion ruling dissents in which she objected vigorously to the reasoning in Roe. Two are Byron White and William Rehnquist, who dissented from Roe in 1973 and show no sign over the years of having changed their minds. Two are Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, both Reagan appointees who have not yet voted publicly on abortion but are believed to have deep reservations about Roe. Among those willing to guess what the newly composed court is likely to do in the Webster case, the consensus is this: The justices will probably not hand down a direct and explicit reversal of Roe. But they could. The Justice Department has asked them to. The state of Missouri has asked them to. If the justices are ready this summer to hand abortion law back to the individual states, then Webster v. Reproductive Health Services offers them the invitation they need. And that is why Mary Bryant, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist who spent three months of 1986 in an urgent and futile effort to convince Missouri state senators and representatives to vote against the abortion legislation before them, also remembers how she learned last January that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the Webster case. She was in Jefferson City, the Missouri state capital, and as she took the telephone call from St. Louis, Bryant gazed from her office window at the parade chuffing merrily down High Street to celebrate the reelection of Gov. John Ashcroft. The very sight of celebration, Bryant says, struck her as utterly surreal. She had spent four years trying to block every legislative abortion cutback in one of the most famously anti-abortion states in the nation, and now Bryant began for the first time to believe that Roe v. Wade might actually be reversed. "So many of us thought this couldn't happen," Bryant says. "Even when we saw this bill. We thought, 'This can't happen.' But it did. And that's what people need to understand." IN FACT, WHAT PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IS SAMUEL Lee. Samuel Lee works in Jefferson City, where be borrows other people's telephones and sleeps at night on a friend's couch, and in St. Louis, where he rents a one-room office accessible by climbing a stairway between a discount clothing store and a pawnshop. He has a beard and wears wire-rim glasses, which gives him a sober and academic look, and when he sits at the desk in his St. Louis office, he faces a wall whose only decoration is a large wood crucifix. There are some file cabinets in the office, and a lot of stacks of paper on the floor, and as Lee talks, his voice measured and extremely cordial, he gets up from time to time to dig through the stacks for stapled papers that will illustrate what he means: Here is a law journal article, here a philosophical essay, here a press release and a state vote tally and the excerpted statutes of five different states where abortion may someday be illegal again. Andrew Puzder showed the first draft of his "life begins at conception" language to a good number of people in the Missouri anti-abortion movement, but none took it more seriously than Samuel Lee. In late 1983 Lee was serving out a jail sentence for his participation in abortion clinic sit-ins, and Puzder's idea appealed to him; creativity, it seemed to Lee, was something the movement badly needed. He had watched with admiration as other kinds of social activists invented novel tactics like calling for urban "nuclear-free zones" or sending playground construction funds to Nicaragua as a protest against the contras, and Lee saw at once the ground that might be gained by asking Missouri, as Puzder wanted to phrase it, to "acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development, all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state." Thus it was that Samuel Lee, soon to become co-author and principal lobbyist for Missouri House Bill 1596, joined the scattered collection of American men and women whose personal convictions about abortion have helped shape and reshape the nation's modern laws. Lee was 31 when the Supreme Court agreed three months ago to hear the Webster case; a decade earlier he had given so little thought to abortion that he was not at all certain how the law ought to approach it, and there is in Lee's own transformation a small introduction to the complex routes linking private beliefs and Supreme Court rulings and the examining tables on which pregnant women lie and wait. Five years from now, if a pregnant Missouri woman must spend six hours on a bus in order to cross the state line to territory where abortion is legal, it is possible that Samuel Lee will have helped write the words that put her there, although he is careful about assuming too much of the limelight. "I want lots of people to get credit for what's going on," Lee says. "I'm just one person who did my job." Lee spent much of his childhood in Indiana, where his father was a civilian engineer for the Navy; he came to St. Louis, he says, because he thought he might enter the seminary. He had never joined a public demonstration over abortion law, but when he arrived in 1978 at the Jesuit-run St. Louis University, he was drawn to the anti-abortion activists who were using a local Franciscan center to plan sit-ins at abortion clinics. The convictions of men and women willing to commit civil disobedience to protest abortion intrigued him, Lee says, and in the campus library he spent a week reading about abortion, pulling from the shelves many volumes that laid out arguments for and against the liberalizing of abortion laws. At the end of that week, Lee says, he knew where his own moral grounding lay. "Something snapped," he says. "I'm sort of a black and white person. And it became clear to me that abortion was terribly, terribly wrong, and I had to do something about it." It made no sense, it seemed to Lee, to waffle about the moment when human life began; anybody could see that human life got under way with the fertilization of a woman's egg. If that egg, and later embryo and fetus, was then by definition an individual and separate life, as Lee believed it must surely be, then he could not see how removing it could be anything other than a killing. A woman physically imperiled by pregnancy should certainly be able to seek whatever medical treatment would keep her alive, but beyond that Lee was mystified by the idea that what he now understood to be killing was something a woman could "choose," no matter how desperate her personal situation or how different her religious beliefs. Women with severe postpartum emotional problems were not offered the option of killing their babies. And if they were, then Lee suspected a great many more Americans might understand how a person could believe it his duty to interfere directly in the lives of women he had never met. "There are those who think, for instance, that beating a child is good for the child, to the point of bruises and welts," Lee says. "That's wrong. And if I see it happening, I'm going to stop it." For five years, his seminary plans abandoned and his paying work kept to a minimum, Samuel Lee was the kind of activist who carries picket signs at abortion clinics and calls out to approaching women to try to keep them from walking inside. By his count he was arrested about 50 times between 1979 and 1983; Andrew Puzder was one of the lawyers who volunteered most enthusiastically to represent him, and both Puzder and Lee agreed to try raising before Missouri judges and juries the "necessity defense" -- the argument that moral conviction forced anti-abortion demonstrators to break the law for the more compelling purpose of saving what they saw to be individual human lives. "The defense worked miraculously well," Puzder says. "I kept Sam out of jail for two years based on this defense." It was not infallible, though, and in 1983 a St. Louis judge sentenced Lee to 314 days for violating injunctions meant to keep him away from abortion clinics. The sentence allowed Lee to leave his jail facility for daytime work and volunteer duties, but he was forbidden to break the law in demonstrations again, and as he waited out his jail time, Lee discovered he could make use of law libraries. He had to bend the rules at first to do it, but during his lunch hour or what was supposed to be his driving-home time, Lee would detour quietly to the St. Louis University law library; later, after his transfer to an honor-system minimum-security facility just outside St. Louis, he spent his evening hours in a public law library nearby, reading in close detail the cases he had begun learning about when he was trying to help his own legal defense. He read Roe v. Wade, all 65 pages of it: The state of Texas could not declare abortion a crime, the court had ruled, and neither could other states with similar laws on their books. He read Doe v. Bolton, the companion case decided at the same time as Roe: The state of Georgia, the court had ruled, could not prohibit most abortions even with a less restrictive law. Together the rulings declared for the first time that the Constitution protected a woman's right to choose an abortion, and that during the first third of her pregnancy this right was so unassailable that state laws could not interfere with it at all. During the second third of her pregnancy, state laws could intervene only to ensure the woman's safety. And the Roe and Doe rulings directed that once a woman's pregnancy had reached its third trimester, when the fetus might be able to live with artificial help outside the womb, state laws could prevent the abortion -- unless the woman showed that continuing the pregnancy would endanger her physical or emotional health. Roe and Doe had overturned in a single day the abortion laws of nearly every state. But there was much the two rulings had not answered, and as Lee began working his way through the post-Roe cases, he saw that local legislators from around the country had been trying for the past 10 years to find out just how closely they could regulate a procedure many of them still believed ought to be prohibited outright. Could they require a woman to obtain her husband's consent before an abortion? Could they ban certain kinds of abortion techniques? Could they require second-trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals instead of clinics? No, the court ruled, they could not. But the justices themselves argued in their opinions about what was meant by "impermissible state interference," and they did uphold some local abortion limitations: The court ruled, for example, that the states could refuse to fund abortions through their Medicaid programs. They could require a second doctor to be on hand if the fetus being aborted might be able to live on its own. A city's public hospital could refuse to admit abortion patients, the court ruled, even though poor women might not be able to afford the cost of private clinic abortions. That particular public hospital was in St. Louis, as it happened; three of the Supreme Court's major post-Roe abortion cases had begun with state or local efforts to restrict abortion in Missouri. And as Lee examined the reasoning in these rulings, he began to see that the legal system itself might hold entirely new possibilities for a person with aims like his, particularly in a state with abortion politics like Missouri's. If a regional law were written creatively enough and offered to a sufficiently realigned collection of Supreme Court justices, it might with any luck do measurable damage to what the pro-choice activists referred to as "abortion rights." The words on paper might not weigh as much or photograph as well as a grown man's body stretched across an abortion clinic doorway, but here was the potential for language that might set before pregnant women another kind of barrier, one that did not go away when the police van arrived. It was already understood, for example, that physicians and nurses who found abortion morally objectionable could not be forced to participate. What if bank tellers explained that they could not participate in abortion either, and refused deposits from abortion clinics? What if construction workers refused remodeling jobs at hospitals that permitted abortions and then, when confronted by their supervisors, cited some new Missouri law prohibiting any retaliation against an employee "because of such individual's refusal to participate in abortion"? "Noncooperation" was the word Lee used, recalling India under the waning Raj; if he could word some statutory language properly, it might legally protect his noncooperators and serve a kind of broad theatrical function at the same time. Participate in abortion, Lee wrote. To receive, obtain, perform, pay for, assist in, counsel for, suggest, recommend, refer for, promote, or procure an abortion . . . To provide advertising, equipment, materials, bookkeeping, medical supplies or services, private legal counsel, banking, office space or real estate, hotel or motel room, insurance, delivery or installation of goods, private guards or security, or any other product or service that furthers the operation of an abortion facility or assists a physician in the performance of abortions. And what if such a bill were combined with the language Andrew Puzder had already drafted -- the declaration that in the state of Missouri, human life begins at conception? A state representative had introduced Puzder's bill but gotten nowhere with it, and Puzder and Lee decided the two bills together might carry more weight and catch on in other states as well. "If you get enough states to pass these kinds of bills saying life begins with the unborn, it presents an incredible conflict that the court would eventually have to address," Puzder says, "hopefully with some Reagan appointees sitting on the bench." And what if such a bill prohibited public funding for any abortion services -- even the most indirect funding imaginable? Veteran Missouri Catholic Conference lobbyist Louis deFeo was drafting a short bill that prohibited expenditure of public funds on almost all abortion services, and what deFeo's bill encompassed was more sweeping than the funding cutoffs the Supreme Court had already approved. Under the terms of deFeo's bill, no public hospital could permit any but medically lifesaving abortions, even if the abortions were privately paid for. No public employee could assist in abortion either, and deFeo's bill also included a passage making it illegal for an on-the-job public employee -- a category that appeared to include every publicly paid doctor, nurse or counselor whose job included talking to distressed pregnant women -- to "advocate or counsel in favor of an abortion." Missouri was in fact accommodating only a minimal number of public hospital abortions anyway, but Lee liked the language very much; it seemed to him to have the sort of catchiness that might also attract the attention of other states or even higher courts. "When I saw it," says Lee, "I thought to myself, Why didn't I think of that? 'In all circumstances, the state of Missouri has to divorce itself from the abortion industry.' It's so simple -- so brilliant." In early 1986, two years after his release from jail, Lee took the new bill -- at first a blend of both his and Puzder's ideas, and then a longer combined bill with deFeo's public funds prohibitions added in -- to state Sen. John Schneider, a 16-year Senate veteran who was viewed as a reliable ally of the state's anti-abortion groups. The legislation was introduced in parallel form before the Missouri Senate and House, and Lee, by then a full-time lobbyist for Missouri Citizens for Life, began a spirited search for votes: He believed not only that the bill would pass, but that the U.S. Supreme Court would one day consider what it had to say. "I knew that it had the potential," he says. "I knew we'd get challenged. I had no doubt in my mind." The fiercest hope was that a realigned court would seize this opportunity to reverse Roe in its entirety, to tell the states they could once again make abortion a criminal act. But Lee saw vast promise in the new Supreme Court even if Roe itself were left intact. He had read the dissents of Justice O'Connor, who had repeatedly argued in favor of abortion regulations viewed by some other justices as too restrictive. If O'Connor was any indication, the court might be ready to signal to states that as long as they kept abortion legal, they could go ahead with the kind of regulation earlier decisions had prohibited. If women had to wait 24 hours between signing abortion consents and receiving the abortions, if they had to listen to detailed descriptions of the fetus' body parts, if the law required they go to hospitals but gave hospitals the right to refuse them entry -- American states, given a different sort of mandate from the justices of the court, could write into their statutes a rich array of regulations that might reduce by many thousands the number of abortions physicians were permitted to perform. It was a strategy as plain to Planned Parenthood's Mary Bryant as it was to Samuel Lee. "It was the perfect setup," Bryant says. "It was made to order." When she first read the wording of Missouri House Bill 1596, Bryant says, she felt sick; for years she had tried to translate the concept of "reproductive freedom" for the hostile Jefferson City audience, and she knew what the votes generally looked like on any measure that encompassed the subject of abortion. "We have now four votes in the Senate, out of 34," Bryant says. "On a good day, 35 votes in the House, out of 163. That's on a good day. That's if all our people are on the floor, and the Kamikaze Squad, as they call themselves, feel up to it." Bryant had chafed over the years at funding restrictions and other cutbacks aimed at what she saw as a right essential to women in any just society, but she had never read statutory language quite like the provisions laid out in House Bill 1596. She says she was angered by the notion of directing what physicians and nurses in public hospitals could say about abortion; how could the state imagine that it might limit the ways in which a health professional described the options available to a pregnant woman? And the opening lines of the preamble, with their insistent declarations about unborn children, struck her as both dangerous and bizarre. "If this comes into law, we will have fertilized eggs in petri dishes being given the same rights as living, breathing Missouri citizens," Bryant says. "The fertilized eggs which are flushed out of the uterus during the menstrual cycle will be continued on page 42 ROE v. WADE continued from page 26 citizens, with full rights." For months Bryant carried the House and Senate bills from office to office in the State Capitol, arguing with legislators about whether a state government could ethically and legally do what Samuel Lee and his colleagues had proposed. The worst meetings were not with the men and women who deeply believed abortion to be immoral, she says; it was the others who most disturbed her, the legislators who seemed to Bryant to be either cowed by the pro-life movement or driven by political pragmatism to vote for a measure they thought could not possibly stand up to a constitutional test. "What happens when I go lobby is that this is the dispensable issue," she says. "This is the issue that gets kicked down the halls, sniggered about, is considered a fait accompli . . . 95 percent of the people who voted for this bill believed it didn't have a chance. They looked at that preamble and laughed. 'This is stupid. The courts will never go for it.' " The votes were held, one in the House and one in the Senate, in the third week of April 1986. The combined tally was 142 to 41. Samuel Lee remembers the House vote better because the representatives pressed buttons to make a board light up, red for no and green for yes, and from where he stood in the gallery he could watch the bulbs blink on, first one and then another, until they formed a long straight string of green as bright as a traffic light that has just switched its signal to Go. LAST WINTER A 40-YEAR-OLD PREG- nant woman walked into the windowless little office of Carroll Metzger, who is a registered nurse and runs clinical services for the Truman Medical Center's eastern branch, a publicly funded hospital complex set out amid some open fields in suburban Kansas City. The woman had entered the hospital by way of the emergency room, where she had announced to the staff that she needed an abortion but had no money to pay for one. The woman said she must have this abortion, that she could not possibly give birth to the baby. If she did not get the abortion, the woman said, she was going to kill herself. Now envision this encounter, Metzger says, under the legal constraints of House Bill 1596. Metzger pulls a telephone book from a shelf in her office and thumbs rapidly through the pages under "A." When she comes to "Abortion Services," she stops and gazes at the ceiling while she shoves the opened telephone book across her desk; she is miming a public nurse who has been instructed not to repeat the word "abortion" in her office. "Legally, I'd have had to say, 'Well, I can't discuss that with you,' " Metzger says. "It's just crazy. Imagine a kidney patient. 'I'm sorry, I can't counsel you about dialysis. The state doesn't let me.' I just think it's wrong." Had Missouri House Bill 1596 been allowed to take full effect instead of vanishing temporarily into three years of legal challenge, here is what the legislation in its present form would not do: It would not, despite the clamor that surrounds its wording, make a substantial difference in the number of legal abortions performed inside the state. It would not strongly affect the public hospital system, since fewer than 5 percent of Missouri's 17,500 abortions a year are performed in the two public hospitals that sometimes accept abortion patients, and even those patients must pay for the procedure themselves. And the preamble language about "unborn children" would not prevent women from seeking and paying for private abortions; indeed, since the language is only preamble and not part of the abortion law itself, it is not clear that it would have any impact on abortion at all. The legislation would, on the other hand, address itself to people like Carroll Metzger, whose salary is paid with public funds. In the form now being examined by the Supreme Court, the Missouri legislation prohibits any expenditure of public funds "for the purpose of encouraging or counseling a woman to have an abortion not necessary to save her life." As far as Metzger can see, this means that what she did -- she helped the suicidal woman find emergency funding and gave her information on a reputable abortion clinic -- might have been illegal if House Bill 1596 had been allowed to take full effect. "I think it's against the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech," Metzger says. "I think it's unethical, as a health care provider. My role as a health care provider is not to decide what you need." So alarmed was Metzger by the state legislature's vote that she agreed, along with a social worker and three physicians who practice at public hospitals, to join her name to the original suit against House Bill 1596. If she were formally muzzled before the pregnant women who come to her for help, Metzger says, she believes her personal standards would offer her only two options: She could quit her job, or she could deliberately break the law by continuing to tell women where they might find abortion clinics that were safe and reliable. "They'll still get abortions," she says. "And we'll see them in the public system for what they get. We'll see them for their pelvic infections." Some women will not find abortion clinics at all if full public counseling is taken away, Metzger says, but she expects the public hospital system to encounter them too. "We'll see them in the OB clinics," she says, "to deliver babies they're not committed to." The state attorney general's office has argued that Metzger and her colleagues are deliberately misreading the statute's language -- that the bill prohibits "encouraging" abortion but permits a neutral mention of abortion as one legal option for an unwanted pregnancy. Louis deFeo, who wrote the public funding portion of the law, says he would not object to a publicly salaried physician's mention of abortion, but that he thinks a physician might be improperly "selling" abortion if the doctor told the pregnant woman exactly where the abortion might be performed. Samuel Lee says these matters depend "on the context," as he puts it, but in his view a physician's duty to his patient ought not encompass the abortion procedure anyway. The analogy Lee raises is to a public school counselor confronted by a deeply depressed teen-ager. " 'You know, I think one of your options is suicide,' " Lee says, mimicking the counselor's neutral voice. " 'And here's where you can get some pills to do that.' " Just what the counseling prohibition means, in other words, is still open to considerable debate, which is why the opponents of House Bill 1596 have directed most of their concern at that part of the legislation. There are other passages that have troubled pro-choice activists: As originally written, the bill would have required that all post-15-week abortions be performed in hospitals rather than clinics, a requirement that was overturned by a lower court and has now been eliminated since Missouri officials decided not to raise it in their appeal. And one provision that is still at issue requires near-viability fetuses to be tested before abortion for "lung maturity," which some physicians say seems to mandate the costly amniocentesis procedure and could dangerously delay an abortion. But if the state legislation were now to make a real impact on anyone in Missouri, the women feeling the change would apparently be those who rely on publicly funded agencies -- the pregnant women who cannot afford to go to private physicians for help. B.J. Isaacson-Jones, the director of the St. Louis clinic whose name leads the legal challenge to the Missouri legislation, says those are the patients she worries about most. Reproductive Health Services, whose clinic physicians perform slightly more than half the abortions in the state of Missouri, receives no direct public funding, but Isaacson-Jones says a third of the RHS clients fall below the poverty line. "Reproductive Health Services sees women from an eight-state area, and that is for the most part for our second-trimester program," she says. "These women come to us by way of referrals from social service agencies that are often receiving public funds, because we have the reputation of being able to help these low-income people." This is the part that most angers Isaacson-Jones, this apparently irresolvable tangle of abortion law and class. If Missouri's law is upheld, women will still have abortions, she says; if other states adopt identical or stricter laws, women will still have abortions; women will go on having abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, too, although they may have to travel across three state lines to do it. Then the rich will go by airplane and the poor will go by bus, but Isaacson-Jones, who has worked for nine years in a clinic so crowded on Saturdays that silent patients sit on the floors or stand leaning against the waiting room walls, has no doubt at all that they will go. She wrote a poem, some weeks ago, when she could not sleep. She was writing, she says, to the 21 million women who are believed to have obtained legal abortions since 1973. Remember how we protected your privacy and treated you with dignity and respect When you were famous Had been brought to us in shackles with an armed guard Or were terrified you would run into one of your students? I remember each of you . . . Have you forgotten? Isaacson-Jones published her poem as a paid advertisement in four newspapers around the country, and she says more than a thousand women have written back. Most of them enclosed money. Some said they had no money to enclose but wanted to know what they might do to help. Some of them filled pages with the handwritten accounts of their own abortions. "Until the Supreme Court announced the decision to hear the Webster case, we had difficulty communicating to pro-choice people that we were at risk," Isaacson-Jones says. "Now there is an outpouring of support, something I've never seen since I've been at this agency." Isaacson-Jones is tired this morning, and slightly edgy; she has been at the clinic since long before sunrise, because the anti-abortion organization called Operation Rescue has announced that demonstrators will be targeting some St. Louis abortion clinic today for group civil disobedience. As it turns out, they will wait until the next day before descending on Reproductive Health Services, and then 150 protesters will converge by bus and car on the parking lot downstairs. It is fiercely cold in St. Louis during this early February week, and the protesters will be outnumbered by pro-choice activists marching by, but the protesters will climb out into the snow anyway, their hats over their ears and their wool scarves tucked around their chins, and when they are arrested and taken away, Samuel Lee will visit them in the St. Louis jail. He likes to stop by, Lee says, because he remembers that in the jail there is no natural light and that from inside it is hard to tell whether it is day or night. He remembers that it makes a person feel more cheerful when visitors come around. He remembers that an abortion clinic arrest is sometimes a heady thing, a small flush of the most satisfying immediacy, and that it is good sometimes to have a friend at the jail who understands this and can listen. Lee has a legal brief to prepare and a lot of 19th-century abortion laws to read, but on this Saturday evening in February he will sit with the protesters until their releases get under way at 2 o'clock in the morning and Lee can go home to bed. "Sure, I miss it," he says. "But I can only do so much." Cynthia Gorney writes on family, law and society for the Style section of The Washington Post.