Writing an Abortion Bill

September 28, 1990

Winning the abortion battle at the polls on Sept. 13 does not mean the end of the campaign for pro-choice advocates. Now they must craft legislation that passes muster with lawmakers of widely divergent views and with a governor who says he is on their side yet remains personally opposed to the notion of abortion.

Most members of the General Assembly agree this sensitive issue ought to be resolved quickly when legislators convene in January. That will require protracted negotiations between those opposed to liberalizing abortion-rights laws and those in favor of giving a woman greater choice.

Even though voters decisively rejected four anti-choice senators Sept. 11, there still could be strong opposition in the Senate to an abortion-rights bill deemed overly permissive. There might even be a brief filibuster. But the votes now are there to ram a bill through the Senate, if necessary. Both sides, though, want to avoid the kind of acrimony that led to last spring's deadlock and lingering recriminations.

Nor do House leaders want a divisive showdown in their chamber. The debate never reached the House floor last spring. It will in 1991, with both sides predicting enough votes for passage. But how strong an abortion-rights bill will a majority of delegates approve?

That could depend on the way bill-drafters answer the following questions: At what stage is a fetus defined as "viable"? Who will make that determination? Should there be parental consent or notification before teen-agers have abortions?

Not only must House and Senate leaders -- on both sides of the issue -- reach agreement, lawmakers must get the assent of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, too. In his recent statement supporting the pro-choice position, the governor left plenty of room to negotiate with bill-drafters if the proposal presented to him is unacceptable.

This is a complex and delicate matter. It can best be handled before the hustle and bustle of the General Assembly session begins next year. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller ought to waste no time assigning legislators to the task. Writing an abortion-rights bill will take time, persistence and patience. Let the process begin.

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