YESTERDAY'S march by abortion opponents commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade serves as a reminder that the political debate on this divisive issue continues. Suits are still being filed in state and federal courts by those who want to restrict the right and give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse the landmark case. But Congress is also continuously being urged to pass statutes that would make the exercise of abortion rights both difficult and expensive. This week's demonstrators marched to the Supreme Court, but they are really operating in the political sphere, hoping to influence both public opinion and individual legislators. Abortion-rights groups, of course, are opposing them every step of the way.
What's happening in this area? The District is a strong abortion-rights jurisdiction, and the only live political question here is whether Congress and the president will allow the citizens of this city to use their own -- not federal -- money to pay for abortions for the poor. The D.C. Council wants this authority, and in 1989 Congress finally acquiesced. So far though, the president won't have it. The city's new mayor should try to talk him out of his resistance.
Virginia has no restrictions on abortion, but an effort is being made again this year to require parental notification when minors seek abortions. The bill has been killed in committee on the Senate side, but abortion opponents will probably make a try to short-circuit the committee and force a vote on the Senate floor. Their efforts did not pay off last year, and the fact that the legislature is due to adjourn in February diminishes their chances now.
The situation in Maryland is, as it was last year, more complicated. At the time Roe was decided in 1973, Maryland had a law allowing abortion only in the case of rape, fetal abnormality or if the health of the mother was at stake. That law has not been enforced for 18 years, but it has never been repealed. If Roe should be overturned by the Supreme Court, the state's attorney general has ruled that the old statute would come back into force. Abortion-rights groups therefore want to get that law repealed and a new one, codifying the guarantees of Roe, on the books. Last year, a Senate filibuster resulted in a compromise that would have required a complicated referendum. It was wisely abandoned.
Now, in spite of the fact that key leaders of the filibuster were defeated in the November election, it is still not clear that proponents of revision have enough votes to defeat another filibuster. The leadership hopes to build a coalition, but at a price: some language requiring one-parent notification unless a physician finds it is unnecessary or unwise. Other amendments proposing more severe restrictions are expected, but none seems likely to pass. No matter what form a final bill takes, nevertheless, challengers will bring it to referendum in 1992.