Abortion Politics

September 12, 1990

Abortion politics in the Maryland State House will never be the same after the crushing defeat yesterday of senate incumbents who had blocked efforts to liberalize Maryland's abortion-rights law. The scope of these defeats -- especially in the face of easy reelection for most other incumbents -- underlines the forcefulness of the voters' message that the intransigence of legislators in enacting abortion-rights legislation must end.

The chief casualty of the voters' plebescite on the abortion question was Democratic Sen. Frank Kelly of Baltimore County. He was the most outspoken and zealous advocate of last spring's abortion filibuster and the no-compromise stance that left the senate in paralysis. He lost by a 2-1 margin to former teachers union president Janice Piccinini, who ran a one-issue campaign with great success against Mr. Kelly.

Even worse defeats awaited anti-abortion incumbent Sens. Frank Shore and Margaret Schweinhaut of Montgomery County. The two were clobbered by pro-choice delegates. And in Prince Georges County, another anti-abortion senator, Frank Komenda, narrowly lost.

This signals a new day in the Maryland senate when abortion bills are discussed and voted upon. No more delaying tactics. No more waffling on this important social issue. Democratic voters in this heavily Democratic state are sending forth nominees intent on giving women the right to make the abortion choice herself. They want to see the Supreme Court's long-held Roe vs. Wade decision written into state law.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who breezed to an easy primary victory, ought to take notice. The governor has intentionally avoided taking a stand on this emotionally charged issue. That may no longer be possible. The electorate will expect and demand of him that he make his views known in the general election,when he makes his views known in the general election,when he meets the Republican winner, William S. Shepard.

The loss of Senator Kelly in the state Senate will deprive the Baltimore area of its foremost voice in budgetary matters. In spite of his staunch anti-abortion views, the senator battled diligently for numerous social causes that benefited his county, Baltimore City and the region. It will be up to Ms. Piccinini to broaden her limited perspective and to give Baltimore County the same kind of quality representation.

For House and Senate leaders, these defeats mean that the abortion issues must be placed at the top of their agenda for the 1991 General Assembly session. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, in particular, has an obligation to devise a strategy that permits early and prompt consideration of a pro-abortion rights bill. The voters have given Mr. Miller clear direction. The rest will be up to the new members of the state senate.

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