Clear choices

September 12, 1990

With the stunning -- and overwhelming -- defeat of state Sen. Frank Kelly and two other uncompromising Senate opponents of the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion, voters of Maryland spoke decisively yesterday in favor of a public policy which permits abortions generally within the framework of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade.

That was the decision which established an unlimited right toabortion in early pregnancy. But the court as reconstituted by Ronald Reagan has now reneged on the commitment in Roe vs. Wade -- throwing the contentious issue squarely back into the political arena of the state legislatures. It was a direct result of the Supreme Court's waffling on the issue that the Maryland Senate earlier this year became mired in an acrimonious filibuster which set the stage for an equally acrimonious election campaign in which abortion rights was the dominant issue in key Senate races.

Even before yesterday's election of Janice Piccinini and other pro-choice candidates, there could not have been the slightest question a public consensus was developing that the compromises embodied in the Roe decision are about the best we can achieve in an area so fraught with emotion. For evidence of this emerging consensus consider Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn's complete about-face on the issue within the past week. Once firmly opposed to all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother, Nunn now embraces the principles of Roe vs. Wade. It is revealing that William F. Buckley Jr., the godfather of the conservative movement in America, has now grudgingly given political absolution to Nunn for his switch. Buckley thus concedes that abortion has reached an impasse much like that reached with Prohibition 60 years ago, when the nation finally faced the fact that bans on alcoholic beverages were unenforceable.

It is sad that otherwise highly qualified legislators had to be defeated to make the point, but the message is now clear: The intractable abortion issue must be resolved politically. This means holding as civil a debate as possible under the circumstances, reaching whatever reasonable compromises are attainable, and finally passing a bill which represents the views of the people of Maryland as expressed by their elected representatives. And it is essential that some form of all-inclusive abortion policy be passed without being scuttled by a filibuster of senators who hold extreme views on abortion.

/ It goes without saying, of course, that whatever bill is enacted would ultimately be petitioned to referendum, so that the people of Maryland would have the final say-so on ratification.

That's how the political process is supposed to work. And until it is allowed to work, we can be certain that we will have more legislative sessions consumed by the issue, followed by more one-issue elections in which abortion plays the decisive role.

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