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Key Issues Facing the Court, 1989-90 Term

ABORTION: Cases from Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio will test the constitutionality of further state restrictions on abortion, including requiring parental notification before performing an abortion on a minor and requiring that all first-trimester abortions be performed in licensed clinics. If the Justices approve the latter, it could strike at the heart of Roe v. Wade. DEATH PENALTY: The court will consider at least six capital-punishment cases. They all deal, however, with procedure and sentencing and don't speak to the basic issue of constitutionality. Last term, the justices approved the death penalty for those who committed capital crimes while under the age of 18.

FIFTH AMENDMENT: A Maryland case raises an important issue regarding protections against self-incrimination. It concerns a mother who refused to divulge the whereabouts of her son to social workers who feared he may have been the victim of child abuse. The state's interest in the safety of children is pitted against the rights of suspects.

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RELIGION: The federal Equal Access Act will be tested in an Nebraska case where a student Bible club seeks to meet on a public high school campus. School officials have opposed such activity on the basis that it violates the First Amendment separation of church and state. If the students win, it would represent an important move towards religious ``accommodation'' and against strict separation.

RIGHT-TO-DIE: A Missouri case - the first of its kind to be heard by the high court - concerns a state's authority to continue keeping a comatose young woman alive with life-support systems over the strong objection of her parents. The concepts of privacy and the right to refuse medical treatment are at stake.

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