Supreme Court Upholds Law Mandating Abortion Counseling

The Supreme Court turned down an appeal over a requirement that women get in-person counseling before they can have an abortion, a case that could have reopened the emotional question of when restrictions on abortion become unconstitutional.

The court did not comment in rejecting Monday's appeal from women's health clinics and an abortion doctor in Indiana, who argued that the face-to-face meeting is too onerous. A lower court judge had found that the requirement would deny abortions to an estimated 10- to 12 percent of women who wanted them.

The high court's action probably means the Indiana law will take full effect for the first time since the state legislature passed it eight years ago.

The law requires abortion providers to tell women about medical risks and alternatives to abortion at least 18 hours before the procedure, and to give the information in person. Currently, women get the information over the phone.

The high court has allowed states to place a variety of restrictions on abortion, including waiting periods and requirements for "informed consent," in the 30 years since the Roe v. Wade ruling that allowed legal abortions.

The court has also cautioned that abortion restrictions cannot go too far, and the Indiana clinics said a lower federal appeals court flouted that warning when it cleared the way for in-person counseling last year.

The high court has not considered requirements like Indiana's, which abortion providers and women's organizations said is particularly unfair to poor women and those who must travel from rural areas.

In practice, the law requires women to make two clinic appointments at least a day apart, opponents said, which can be difficult for any woman who would have trouble explaining her absence to an employer, husband or boyfriend.

Abortion providers and many women's organizations have long opposed state efforts to delay abortions or require the distribution of certain information beforehand. Such measures can intimidate or frighten women, opponents said.

Opponents of the Indiana law pointed to research in Mississippi and Utah that showed abortion rates dropped by about 10 percent after those states required similar in-person counseling. That does not necessarily mean women opted to have their babies, because a significant number traveled out of state to have an abortion, lawyers for the Indiana clinics wrote.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the in-person counseling rule constitutional last year. The law does not create too great a burden for women, in part because it would waive the requirement in a medical emergency.

The case is A Woman's Choice-East Side Women's Clinic v. Newman, 02-935.