Four of the Maryland Senate's leading anti-abortion incumbents -- including Baltimore County's Francis X. Kelly -- lost resoundingly last night to primary challengers who focused their campaigns on keeping government out of a woman's private life.
Abortion-rights activists, who labored all summer to keep the issue before the public, were jubilant, saying the victories could assure the Senate's passage next year of a bill that would protect the right to abortion in Maryland.
"With low voter turnout, the people who voted were the people who cared about the issue," said Steven Rivelis, the chairman of Choice PAC, a fund-raising committee founded last May to help elect candidates who believe women should be allowed to choose abortion. "The people who care," he said, "showed up and said to the Maryland General Assembly, 'No more shenanigans and no more dirty tricks. We want a pro-choice bill and we want it now.'"
Michael W. Burns, the chairman of the Maryland Right to Life Political Action Committee said: "More power to them. They got a small sliver of the electorate out, and it was enough to do the job."
In Baltimore County's 10th District, Senator Kelly -- who led last March's anti-abortion filibuster -- was trounced by Janice Piccinini, former president of the Maryland State Teachers' Association, in the Democratic primary.
He said he sensed by midmorning that the abortion issue was bringing out Ms. Piccinini's voters.
"I'm doing as well as can be expected after getting my ass kicked," Mr. Kelly said last night before he addressed his workers. "I lost. It was abortion. There was no question about it."
Ms. Piccinini said she was "thrilled," adding that she knew all summer that people felt strongly enough about abortion to let it decide their vote.
"The issue caused people to believe that they could make a difference," she said last night. "It was a constitutional issue. Women have been taken for granted too long."
In Northeast Baltimore early this morning, Sen. John A. Pica Jr. -- who was endorsed by abortion-rights organizations -- held a 38-vote lead over Martin O'Malley in his fight for the Democratic nomination to a third term. Mr. O'Malley, who stayed away from the issue, was running his first campaign -- with the support of his new father-in-law, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
In Montgomery County's District 17, Delegate Mary Boergers -- who ran with the strong backing of abortion-rights groups -- easily defeated Democratic Sen. S. Frank Shore, who spent the eight days of the filibuster declaring he was in the "Super Bowl for life."
A delegate since 1981, Ms. Boergers cited such issues as transportation and education in her platform but made clear her belief that abortion should be kept widely available.
In neighboring District 18, Delegate Patricia R. Sher, a leader of the House's abortion-rights forces, defeated Democratic Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut, who has been in the legislature for 35 years.
In two Prince George's County Senate races, abortion-rights activists settled for a split decision.
In District 26, Delegate Gloria Lawlah, who ran with heavy aid from such groups as the state affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League, beat Sen. Frank J. Komenda, who joined the filibuster but voted at the end to cut off debate.
In District 23, Sen. Leo Green, one of the leaders of the anti-abortion filibuster, won the Democratic nomination, though political newcomer Terezie Bohrer, a county health official, ran strongly with support from abortion-rights groups.
Ms. Bohrer, who used the word "choice" in her campaign literature to emphasize her stand, ran her campaign with the help of NARAL and Choice PAC, as well as other groups.
Anti-abortion activists won a victory in Carroll County, where Sen. Sharon W. Hornberger, an abortion-rights Republican appointed to the Senate midterm, lost to Larry E. Haines, who opposes abortion.
Abortion dominated Maryland's legislative races this year as never before, sparked by last March's eight-day anti-abortion filibuster. The delaying tactics, launched by senators seeking more restrictions on abortion, led to the eventual death of an abortion-rights bill in the House of Delegates.
The Senate opponents of abortion exulted in their victory. The thwarted abortion-rights advocates announced they'd see their opponents at the polls.
Last night, Senator Kelly said he did not regret his prominence in the filibuster.
"If I had it to do over again I wouldn't do it any other way, because I think abortion's the taking of innocent life," he said. "But I respect the opinion of the voters. I'm a little disappointed, because people say they want politicians who'll fight for their beliefs.
"I had a number of people say to me today, 'We think you're the best senator we ever had, but we're gonna vote against you because we want to teach you a lesson.' I think this was an emotional reaction, not a reasoned one."