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Court Observers Had Long, Wet Wait With AM-Scotus-Abortion

April 22, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ They waited in line for as long as 25 hours, at times huddled under umbrellas in drenching rain, to get one of the hottest tickets in town.

The occasion was the airing before the Supreme Court of a Pennsylvania case that many believe will lead the justices to diminish or overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that accorded women the constitutional right to have an abortion.

″I’ve always wanted to come to the Supreme Court, and I thought this would be a good time to come with this landmark case,″ said Carol Urich of Chevy Chase, Md., an abortion-rights advocate who, in her wheelchair, arrived at the court at 9 a.m. EDT Tuesday to secure her place as the first in line.

Nancy Kassop, 42, drove with her 15-year-old daughter, Allison, from their home in Allendale, N.J. They arrived about two hours after Urich to become the third and fourth in line.

″This one was so historic it was worth making the trip,″ said Nancy Kassop, an abortion-rights supporter who teaches constitutional law at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Her daughter, who also came for the April 5 abortion-rights march in the nation’s capital, said ″the case really concerns me for the future.″

There were no reported incidents as more than 200 people stood, sat or slept during the long wait for the hour-long arguments before the nine justices. During the night, the Supreme Court police allowed more than 100 who had been waiting outside in the soaking rain into a basement corridor.

About 5 a.m. the rain had tapered to a drizzle and those who had been given shelter were outside again, waiting under umbrellas for the 10 a.m. arguments to begin.

After the court session, participants and observers were met outside the building by a throng of reporters and television cameras and a noisy crowd of about 200 protesters for and against abortion rights who had gathered on the sidewalk, waving signs and shouting slogans.

Many of those who wanted to attend the arguments were college and law students. Some of them said the mix of abortion rights supporters and opponents sparked some stimulating debate but no angry encounters.

″We’re not here to protest or argue with anybody,″ said Todd Elmer, 20, a pre-law student from Winter Park, Fla. ″We’ve gotten to be friends overnight″ with many of the others during the long hours of waiting. ″When you hang out in the rain with people, you form a bond,″ he said.

One observer, Fay Vincent, got a front-row seat in the packed courtroom without any of that bother. The commissioner of major league baseball was there as a guest of Justice David H. Souter, a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan.

Another with a reserved seat was Sarah Weddington, the Texas attorney who won the Roe Vs. Wade argument before the court two decades ago.

″As I looked at that court flanked on each side by an American flag, which stands as a symbol of freedom, it was so ironic to me we were sitting there on a day when freedom was being taken away from American women,″ Ms. Weddington said later. ″It’s almost as if they should have covered the flags.″

Ms. Weddington, who now writes and teaches, said she never believed that in her lifetime the 1973 ruling could be altered or overturned.

Watching the attorneys at work Wednesday before a far more conservative court ″was such a low point,″ she said.

She said she realized when Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed last year that ″the sand of time had run out″ for Roe vs. Wade.

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