The Republican candi date's views on abortion Forum Extra

William S. Shepard

October 04, 1990|By William S. Shepard

YOU DEVOTED an editorial Sept. 24 to the stands on abortion taken by Governor Schaefer and me. The analysis was commendable. Most other editorials merely praised Governor Schaefer for having arrived, however belatedly, at the "right" decision.

Should Schaefer also belatedly accept my challenge for a debate on the abortion issue -- and other debates on issues of concern to the voters and taxpayers of this state -- I would press inconsistencies in his stated view. The voters could then make a more informed judgment. But Schaefer will not discuss his position and its contours publicly, and he has said that he will not debate the issues of this campaign.

Since he will not expand on his views, let me note several difficulties of my own in the abortion debate. The first is that the announced Schaefer view is probably the politically popular one. As I understand it, we both accept abortion on personal and moral grounds in the case of a threat to the life of the mother, gross genetic deformity, rape or incest. He then states that his public policy will be the reverse of that view. I state that my public policy, with Medicaid funding allowed, springs from my personal view. I add, however, as he does not, that I fully support new research into birth control technologies that could (and will, in my view) make the abortion controversy obsolete. I also call for a public referendum on the issue -- the ultimate voter choice -- in Maryland.

The Evenings Sun's analysis of my view proceeds from a premise that I do not entirely share, in equating any fetus with absolute priorities. I look instead to a more balanced concept, a balance between the fetus and the mother. In the case of a threat to the life of the mother, the balance is clear. In the event of rape or incest, I believe that the mother's life could be unbalanced for the rest of her baby's term. And in the case of gross genetic deformity, the balance swings partially away from the concept of embryonic life. I do not see the "subtle contradiction" that the The Evening Sun says is there. I do, however, see a great distinction between holding these views and being guided accordingly. Governor Schaefer chooses not to be so guided.

The difference between his view and mine, therefore, is not, as you say, "merely a matter of what circumstances permit an abortion." The difference is that, facing the same polling date, I stand by my convictions and Schaefer chooses instead to return to the same position that he abandoned after the 1986 election. I believe there should be some congruity between private views and public policy. One can imagine the reaction, for example, if a governor should announce that he personally opposed capital punishment -- and then approved death sentences instead of commuting them.

A public official must show leadership in issues that are morally ambiguous. That is what leadership is all about. I do not share The Evening Sun's conclusion that "there is no better workable alternative" to the existing debate. I think there is, if we are bold enough to find it. And I also believe that Schaefer's record of ducking the issue for nearly his entire term as governor does nothing to forward a lasting solution.

I have also spoken of a referendum. I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that the voters of Maryland would accept abortions virtually without limit. I believe a means can and should be found for broad public testing of the issue. And I would abide by the result, for as Harry S. Truman reminded us, "The people are the boss."

L William S. Shepard is the Republican candidate for governor.

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