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U.S. Supreme Court Drops Illinois Abortion Case Pending Formal Settlement

December 2, 1989

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for final approval of a settlement announced last week by Illinois officials in a case challenging the state’s regulations governing abortion clinics.

The justices granted a request from both sides in the dispute that Supreme Court arguments be deferred, pending formal approval of the settlement by the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The argument session had been scheduled for Tuesday and had been viewed by some legal experts as the high court’s mostly likely opportunity in the upcoming year to alter its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The case will remain on the Supreme Court docket, in limbo, until U.S. District Judge John Nordburg acts, and both sides then ask the justices to dismiss the case.

″Because of this morning’s action, Illinois is closer to having a set of regulations that guarantee the health and safety of women who choose to have an abortion,″ Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan said in a statement.

The key issue in the Illinois dispute is a set of strict building codes and other regulations imposed on abortion clinics, where most early-pregnancy abortions are performed.

Opponents of the regulations, including the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, had challenged them successfully in lower courts, saying they severely restrict the availability of abortions.

Jim Bray, a spokesman for Gov. James R. Thompson, said the governor is awaiting the next step in the judicial process.

″The governor’s bottom line has been that the safety of women seeking abortions be guaranteed, and we have the assurance of the attorney general this settlement will do that,″ Bray said.

Hartigan initially had sought to have the Supreme Court uphold the state regulations and the high court accepted the case for review last July 3 - the same day the justices announced, in a Missouri case, a decision giving states far greater authority to regulate abortions.

But Hartigan, a Democratic candidate for governor in 1990, later sought a settlement in which Illinois women would be guaranteed continued access to abortions.

The compromise resulted from a legal challenge to the abortion regulations launched by Dr. Richard Ragsdale of Rockford.

Four years ago, Ragsdale won a preliminary injunction against the regulations in U.S. District Court in Chicago, after contending that the state’s elaborate building codes for abortion clinics were medically unnecessary.

Ragsdale argued the regulations were an attempt by the Illinois Department of Public Health to restrict women’s access to abortion in the state.

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