WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, acting in an appeal urging reversal of its landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, today agreed to review a Missouri law regulating abortions.
The justices said they will study a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key provisions of the state law.
Even before today's action in the appeal filed by Missouri officials, the case had become the most-watched battleground in the continuing political war over abortion. Justice Department lawyers also are urging the high court to use the case as a means of undoing its 1973 ruling, called Roe vs. Wade.
Nothing in the brief order issued today suggested that the justices will reconsider Roe vs. Wade.
The court's eventual decision, expected by July, could resolve the Missouri controversy without significantly changing the 1973 decision or other past rulings on abortion.
5 Key Provisions
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last July 13 struck down, among other aspects of the Missouri abortion law, these five provisions:
--A ban on using public hospitals or other government-run facilities for abortions not necessary to save a woman's life.
--A ban on any public employee's performing or assisting an abortion.
--A ban on using taxpayer money for "encouraging or counseling" women to have abortions.
--A requirement that doctors planning to abort a fetus believed to be older than 19 weeks test for weight and lung capacity to determine whether the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb.
--A declaration that "the life of each human being begins at conception."
'73 Decision Challenged
In the appeal acted on today, Missouri Atty. Gen. William L. Webster said the 8th Circuit Court's ruling "expands (Supreme Court) precedents in favor of abortion on demand, further contracts the state's compelling interest in the life of viable, unborn children and disregards this court's holdings that abortion is a private matter which government need in no way subsidize."
The 1973 decision "should itself be reconsidered" if it cannot be squared with the disputed Missouri law, Webster said.
William Bradford Reynolds, then chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division, wrote to Missouri officials last summer urging them to include a challenge of Roe vs. Wade in the state's appeal.