One of the most emotion-charged battles in Massachusetts history is heading for the state's November ballot. Bay State senators and representatives, meeting in joint session Wednesday, gave final approval to a proposed state constitutional amendment that would empower state lawmakers to all but ban abortions.
The controversial measure was approved within hours of a unanimous US Supreme Court ruling that thwarted an attempt in Illinois to reinstate a law to regulate abortions.
In their action Wednesday the justices, noting that Illinois itself had not appealed, disallowed an appeal by a state pediatrician, who objected to abortion on moral grounds. The high court held that only state officials have the authority to seek reinstatement of the regulations, which had been invalidated by a federal appeals court. It never ruled on the merits of the case.
The provisions of the struck-down Illinois law required doctors who abort fetuses that might be able to live outside the womb to use the same care required for childbirth. A similar, perhaps more far-reaching case from Pennsylvania involving the abortion-rights question is still pending before the high court.
The Reagan administration has been urging the Supreme Court to use these cases as a vehicle for overturning its 1973 decision legalizing abortions in the United States.
The proposed Massachusetts measure, if ratified by a majority of the state's voters next fall, would clear the way for legislators to impose whatever abortion restrictions they deem appropriate, to the extent permitted under the US Constitution.
While it is uncertain how far Bay State lawmakers might go to restrict abortions, they almost surely would end state funding of the termination of pregnancies, except when the life of the woman is threatened.