Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Supreme Court yesterday without comment declined to reinstate an Idaho law that required girls under age 18 to have permission from their parents to get an abortion legally.

The rejection marked the second time in as many months that the high court has declined to weigh in on abortion matters. Last month, the justices refused to reopen Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

Yesterday’s development effectively lets stand a ruling by San Francisco’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to permit teenage girls in Idaho to have abortions without their parents’ permission. The Idaho law allowed abortions for minors without permission only in cases of extreme medical emergency.

According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 44 states have laws on the books requiring parental consent or notification prior to a minor’s having an abortion. Thirty-three laws are in effect, and six states and the District have no such law.

In 1992, the last time the Supreme Court reviewed Roe v. Wade, the justices upheld the fundamental constitutional right of women to choose abortion. At the time, three of the court’s current members, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sought to have the ruling overturned.

On another matter yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to review a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that says journalists in that state can be held liable if they report defamatory comments made by government officials.

The case stems from a 1995 article in the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., which, according to the Associated Press, described one council member as “strongly implying” that another council member and the city’s mayor were “queers and child molesters.”

While the council member who made the remarks was ordered to pay $17,500 in damages, a lower court ruled that the newspaper’s owner, one of its editors and a reporter were protected by the “neutral reportage privilege” because they were journalists.

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the ruling on grounds the privilege was not upheld by the U.S. or state constitutions. The Supreme Court’s rejection yesterday of the newspaper’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling effectively sends the case back to lower courts for the journalists to face trial.

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