Time for action

January 24, 1991

Last year's encounter with abortion should have taught the legislature a lesson: Putting off this contentious issue will not make it any easier to solve. The matter has been debated endlessly; the arguments on each side repeated over and over. It's time to ratify the most sensible compromise available, the compromise embodied in Roe vs. Wade that grants women unrestricted access to abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy but gives states the ability to grant more protections to the fetus as it becomes increasingly able to live outside the womb.

In the November elections and in various opinion polls, Marylanders have made clear that they do not want to outlaw or severely restrict abortions, as Sen. John Cade would do. His bill would outlaw abortion for birth control or sex selection -- two reasons that duck the real issues at hand. What is abortion, if not a last resort when birth control has failed? The sex selection charge is a red herring; there have been no reported abortions for that purpose in Maryland.

The greatest challenge to a sensible bill are two proposals that restrict minors' access. One, introduced by Cade yesterday, would require minors to get the consent of a parent or guardian before having an abortion; another bill, from the Senate leadership, would mandate notification. In our view, such requirements cause needless anguish for teens and run the risk of causing great harm. Moreover, we believe that if a young woman is old enough to make the decision to become sexually active, she is old enough to decide how to handle the consequence of that choice. Abortion opponents clearly hope that such provisions will give parents the power to prevent their daughters from having an abortion. But sooner or later there will be severe consequences for forcing childbirth on someone who is not ready for it.

Abortion has sapped the energy of the General Assembly for too many sessions. There is no way to satisfy everyone on this issue. But it is possible to codify the best available compromise, which was laid out by the Supreme Court 18 years ago -- and to do it now.

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