Four major medical groups specializing in the care of women and children yesterday asked the Supreme Court to strike down an Akron, Ohio, ordinance that would sharply restrict abortions.
The 234,000-member American Medical Association, the 23,000-member American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the 24,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics and the 17,000-member Nurses Association of the Obstetrical College joined in filing the "friend of the court" brief in the test case before the Supreme Court.
The action pits these usually conservative medical groups against the Reagan administration in the case, which could affect similar local attempts to restrict abortion. Last month, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court in the same case to expand state and local government authority to pass such laws and ordinances.
The Supreme Court agreed in May to review Akron's ordinance as well as others. In doing so, it set the stage for what could be its most searching look at abortion since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the Roe vs. Wade decision that greatly expanded women's right to abortions.
Akron and the states of Virginia and Missouri have passed laws that restrict this right in various ways. Others are being considered by other jurisdictions and in Congress.
"We hope we can curtail" these, Dr. James Breen, president-elect of the obstetricians and gynecologists' group, told a news conference yesterday. The Akron ordinance is "the one we chose to oppose," he said, because it is particularly restrictive and "intolerable." It would force doctors to practice "bad medicine," he said, and cause physical and psychological harm to young women.
The Akron ordinance was adopted by its city council in 1978, but only two of its sections are now being enforced because of lower court decisions. One requires that parents be notified when women age 17 and under seek abortions, and another requires that abortions in the second trimester (three months) of pregnancy be done in a hospital.
The director of an Akron abortion clinic also said "we are carrying out" a section requiring parents' approval of abortions for girls age 15 and younger, even though a federal appeals court set that section aside.
In legal abeyance, pending the Supreme Court review of lower court decisions, is the one of ordinance's most controversial provisions, which would require doctors to tell their prospective patients a long list of "facts" about fetuses and abortions, many of which Breen argued are untrue, irrelevant or misleading. Among them:
* That the unborn child is a human life from the moment of conception, and has advanced perception, response, sensitivity to pain, brain and heart function and appearance, all to be described in detail, depending on fetal age, to the pregnant girl or woman. Breen contended that most of this is "irrelevant and extraneous" to helping a patient understand a medical procedure, and doctors are "completely ignorant" on fetal sensitivity to pain.
* That the fetus may be viable -- able to live outside the womb -- at 22 weeks of age. Breen called this inaccurate, with "no scientific or medical evidence" to support it.
* That abortion is a major surgical procedure that can have serious complications, including severe psychological and emotional disturbances, as well as physical problems and sterility. Breen said most doctors now believe abortion is a "relatively minor" and "remarkably safe" surgical procedure, much safer than normal delivery, with "little or no evidence" that a proper abortion increases the risk of any of these complications.
By forcing doctors, under threat of criminal prosecution, to read a checklist of "horrors," an "Akron-type" law "flies in the face of good medical judgment," Breen charged, and could severely upset some patients.
He said the law would prevent doctors from giving the best care needed in their judgment at the best setting, whether it be a hospital or non-hospital clinic. He said it would "unconstitutionally interfere" with a woman's right "to consult with her physician freely and privately."
As to informing parents and requiring their consent, Breen said, "we physicians want to involve the families whenever possible." But he added there are cases when "the patient's welfare has to come first," such as those involving sexual or phsyical abuse by parents.
Virginia's and Missouri's laws mainly require that second-trimester abortions be done in hospitals, not clinics. Most doctors, Breen said, now agree that abortions up to 18 weeks can be done safely and cheaper in adequate clinics.
Breen, a Maplewood, N.J., physician, is obstetrics-gynecology chairman at St. Barnabas Medical Center, a Methodist hospital. He does not perform abortions himself for what he called personal reasons. "That does not mean I am not for the performing of abortions," he said. "[That is] a rather personal decision we have to make."
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing three Akron clinics and one Akron physician in the court case, in which large parts of the local ordinance have been invalidated by federal trial and appellate courts. The Akron clinics and doctor are asking the Supreme Court to sustain the lower decisions and strike down most of the rest of the local law.
The city of Akron is asking the court to restore all of the ordinance, which the city patterned after a national "model" privided by anti-abortion groups.
Endorsing its spirit, though not specifics, Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, who represents the federal government before the high court, said in the government's "friend of the court" brief in July that the best body "to resolve competing policy views and pressures among citizens" is a legislature, not a court. The time has come, he said, "to call a halt" to the preemption of legislatures' powers by courts.
Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell praised the Reagan administration stand, saying, "It's good to have the federal government on the side of the unborn."
No date has been set for oral arguments, but the Supreme Court is expected to hear the cases by winter in its forthcoming term.