The latest delay was not over whether the law should be implemented - just how soon. And so, for the moment at least, both sides expect it to take effect quickly. When it does, it will be one of the strictest abortion-control laws in the nation - though many have trouble seeing anything strict about it at all.
The law does not make abortions illegal in Pennsylvania. It requires that teenagers get permission from one parent before they get an abortion (or, failing that, that they get permission from a court). It requires that all women think over the irreversible abortion decision for at least 24 hours - reading, if they choose, state-produced brochures that show tasteful and scientifically accurate pictures of fetal development over the months.
The anti-abortion side finds those requirements reasonable and responsible. The abortion-rights side finds them outrageous. Rural women far from abortion clinics will be burdened by the 24-hour-delay requirement, they say, and desperate teenagers will flock out of state for abortions or in some cases try to abort fetuses themselves.
Count on this: When the law does go into effect, both sides will still be fighting over it. The legal challenge will continue.
Here are key events in the abortion battle:
1973: The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, legalizes abortion throughout the United States.
1974: Knowing it cannot ban abortions outright, Pennsylvania's predominantly anti-abortion legislature begins the first of many attempts to restrict them. Members introduce an Abortion Control Act that would require juveniles to tell at least one parent about their abortion plans and would require women seeking abortion to receive counseling about alternatives. The bill becomes law - overriding a veto by then-Gov. Milton Schapp - but is struck down by the state Supreme Court.
1982: A similar Abortion Control Act - which requires parental consent for teenagers as well as a 24-hour "informed consent" waiting period for all women - is signed into law. It is quickly challenged in court by the abortion- rights community.
1985: The legal battle over the 1982 law reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, where Philadelphia abortion-rights attorney Kathryn Kolbert argues that it should be declared unconstitutional.
1986: In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court strikes down the 1982 act.
1987: Though staunchly opposed to abortion, Gov. Casey vetoes another, similar Abortion Control Act passed by the legislature. He says that it will not hold up constitutionally because, among other reasons, it requires all women to notify the father before having an abortion.
1988: The legislature passes another Abortion Control Act, which mainly requires teens to obtain permission from a parent or a court before having an abortion. It is signed immediately by Casey and quickly challenged in court by abortion-rights groups.
1989: In a landmark Missouri case called Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states can place various restrictions on abortions.
1989: Encouraged by the ruling, Pennsylvania legislators pass yet another version of the Abortion Control Act. Its major provisions require that all women seeking abortions first receive counseling from a physician, be offered state materials on fetal development and pregnancy services, and then wait 24 hours; that juveniles get permission from one parent or a judge, and that married women notify their husbands of abortion plans. Casey signs the law, which is immediately challenged by abortion-rights attorneys. The 1988 and 1989 Abortion Control Acts are merged in a case called Casey v. Planned
Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. An injunction keeps the law from being implemented while it is battled in court.
1991: U.S. District Judge Daniel H. Huyett 3d strikes down the Abortion Control Act. State attorneys appeal the ruling. Reversing Huyett, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds most of the law - with the exception of the spousal-notification requirement. Abortion-rights attorneys appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
1992: The Supreme Court agrees with the appeals court and upholds most of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. It throws out the spousal-notification provision, but rules that it is constitutional for Pennsylvania to require women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion and to require juveniles to get permission from a parent or judge. The landmark ruling sets a new standard for abortion laws throughout the United States. As long as abortion laws do not present an "undue burden" to women seeking abortions, the high court says, they may be held constitutional.
1993: Abortion-rights attorneys go back to Judge Huyett, arguing that since there is now a new "undue burden" standard for abortion laws, they should be granted new hearings to show that the Abortion Control Act does in fact place an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Huyett calls for new hearings.
Jan. 14, 1994: Overruling Huyett, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denies the request for new hearings and orders that the Abortion Control Act be implemented quickly.
Feb. 7: U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter rejects a last-ditch request by abortion providers to block the law from taking effect while new hearings are sought before the high court.
Feb. 14: Judge Huyett lifts the long-standing injunction against the law.
Feb. 15: The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act takes effect at last. Abortion-rights attorneys go to Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, arguing for a 10-day delay while the state mails out materials on fetal development and pregnancy and birth services, which abortion doctors are now required to offer women as part of the law's "informed consent" provision.
Feb. 16: The Commonwealth Court suspends the law the day after it goes into effect, saying there must be a 10-day delay while the materials are mailed. Abortion-rights attorneys say they will be back in court Feb. 22 to argue that the materials must be published in a state bulletin and that the public must be given 30 days to comment on them before the law takes effect again.