- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

LOS ANGELES The California state Assembly is expected to pass a bill forbidding the state from outlawing abortion should the Supreme Court ever overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The Reproductive Privacy Act, which passed the Senate earlier this month and has the strong support of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, forbids the state to "deny or interfere with a woman's fundamental right to bear a child or to choose or obtain an abortion."
The bill, which may be considered today, is largely symbolic, since the Roe v. Wade decision already prevents states from imposing any dramatic restrictions on abortions.
But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, says she fears that the Supreme Court might make some major change to Roe v. Wade, in which case the state law could become effective.
"We have an anti-choice president, an anti-choice Congress, and a Supreme Court that's one vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade," the Los Angeles Democrat wrote in materials supporting the bill in the state Senate.
"Now is the time to protect our right to choose."
California would become the first state to pre-emptively change its laws to head off Supreme Court action to change Roe v. Wade, according to activists on both sides.
Miss Kuehl's bill also allows medical professionals who are not licensed physicians to conduct "non-surgical abortions," administering chemicals such as the pill known as RU-486 that terminates pregnancies.
This would make California the first state to make a major distinction between surgical and drug-related abortions.
Such drugs are legal in California, but currently must be administered by a physician.
Critics, including pro-life and Catholic organizations that are fiercely lobbing against the bill, say it would authorize premeditated murder and that only physicians should dispense drugs.
"The life of a human being begins at conception," said Art Croney, executive director of the Committee on Moral Concerns, a conservative lobbying organization in Sacramento.
Mr. Croney said the bill sends a dangerous message about the state's attitude toward abortion, particularly when it declares that the life of a human being begins "at the implantation of the embryo," that is, the point at which the fertilized egg settles down in a woman's womb.
Six states allow medical personnel who are not doctors to administer abortion drugs, but those states also allow those personnel to conduct surgical abortions.
Miss Kuehl said she is merely trying to allow non-physician medical personnel to do with abortion-related drugs what they can do with other types of drugs dispense them at the direction of doctors.
Currently, there seems little chance that the Supreme Court will make a dramatic change in the law, with the court evenly balanced three-three on abortion. The remaining three justices are considered swing votes by court watchers, but tend toward leaving the pro-choice basis of the ruling in place.
Rumors have swirled that as many as four justices may die or be forced to retire by poor health and age while pro-life President Bush remains in office.
Two of those John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are considered solid pro-choice votes and a third, Sandra Day O'Connor, is a key swing vote.
The bill is just one of a series of pro-choice bills passed by the state legislature recently. The Assembly this week passed a measure requiring health care workers to provide "morning after" contraceptives to rape victims on request. The Senate, meanwhile, passed a bill requiring California medical schools to offer abortion training in order to keep their accreditation.
Mr. Davis, who is seeking re-election this year, is expected to sign those bills as well.
Backers of the bill say the legislation merely cleans up the long-standing confusion generated by California's fairly restrictive abortion laws, most of which were invalidated by Roe v. Wade but remain on the books unchanged since 1967.
The current, though inoperative, law requires that all abortions must be approved by a committee of medical professionals, who must conclude that the pregnancy would "gravely impair" the physical or mental health of the mother.
It also allows abortions in the cases of rape or incest, but the committee must have an affidavit from a local district attorney saying that there is "probable cause" to believe that the pregnancy was in fact the result of rape or incest.

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