HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Gov. Robert P. Casey signed into law Friday a bill making Pennsylvania the first state to take advantage of a recent Supreme Court decision allowing states to place tighter restrictions on abortion.
The Abortion Control Act of 1989 is expected to have little immediate impact on the more than 50,000 abortions performed annually in Pennsylvania. Both opponents and supporters say, however, a challenge to the measure will soon be in court.
Some backers of the bill believe the law could be a vehicle for the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 landmark decision Roe vs. Wade decision that prohibited states from banning abortions.
Casey signed the bill at 6 p.m. EST behind closed doors, three days after its passage in the state Senate. The House of Representatives approved the measure Oct. 24.
The law, most of which takes effect in 60 days, imposes a 24-hour waiting period before any abortion procedure and requires married women to notify their husbands of their intention to have an abortion.
Doctors will be required to inform women about the procedure, tell them the likely age of the fetus to be aborted and explain risks and procedures.
The law also bans all abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of risk of death or irreversible injury to the mother. It bans the use of abortions to eliminate a fetus of an unwanted sex.
Casey had approved the bill in draft form last month, but his unsurprising decision to sign it nevertheless drew criticism from abortion rights groups and praise from anti-abortion forces.
Elizabeth Hrenda-Roberts, executive director of Planned Parenthood's Pennsylvania Affiliates, said the new law was the product of a 'political deal' between the state government and 'a fanatic special interest group.
'We will be initiating court action to stop this harassment, and we will continue to work with Pennsylvania's pro-choice majority to keep abortion safe and legal,' Hrenda-Roberts said.
Howard Fetterhoff, executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, hailed the enactment of the legislation.
'We applaud Gov. Casey for signing the legislation and for his strong and decisive support,' Shire said. 'By signing the legislation, we think he's really demonstrated his lifelong commitment to what he believes, that innocent human life, in this case, the unborn, is worthy of protection.'
A Supreme Court decision in July in the so-called Webster case from Missouri cleared the way for states to assert greater authority over abortion. State legislatures in some other states, including Florida and Illinois, have voted against new restrictions in recent weeks and Pennsylvania's legislature is the first to impose new regulations.
Pro-life groups said that, in the aftermath of the Webster decision, the Pennsylvania bill was drafted with two purposes in mind: to discourage abortions and to provide an avenue for a direct legal challenge to Roe vs. Wade.
In particular, the ban on sex-selection abortions is aimed directly at the Roe doctrine that states have no authority to ban the abortion procedure.
'Based on the Webster decision and the makeup of the court, there could be some sentiment (in the court) for overturning Roe vs. Wade,' said Bernard Shire, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference.
A pro-choice political action committee said Friday that it planned to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 1990 elections to campaign against anti-abortion candidates.
'Gov. Casey's signing of this bill puts him at the top of the pro-choice hit list in 1990,' said Frances Sheehan of Pennsylvanians for Justice and Freedom of Choice.