The sounds of silence

February 06, 1991

When all was said and done last year, and the abortion issue had been unhappily packed away for another session, Governor Schaefer -- then in the midst of a re-election campaign -- finally took a public position on the divisive issue.

"Donald Schaefer the individual is pro-life," he told voters, "but Donald Schaefer, the governor, is pro-choice. As a matter of public policy, I will not sign any legislation that restricts the ability of women to make their own personal decisions in this matter." That should have ended speculation on the governor's position. Except that no one, including the governor, now seems to know what that means.

With no formidable legislative voice opposing an abortion rights bill, the most contentious issue facing lawmakers this year is whether teen-agers should be compelled to notify their parents when seeking to terminate a pregnancy. In the strictest sense, such a requirement constitutes precisely the kind of restriction Schaefer promised to oppose. But the governor won't say what he thinks: "Under certain circumstances, parental consent, I think, is a good thing," he told a reporter. When asked whether he meant to say "parental notification" rather than "parental consent," Schaefer shot back, "Notice, consent. I'm not going to go any further."

Such evasiveness not only thwarts expedient handling of this matter, which by now everyone wants, but also puts lawmakers in the untenable position of weighing the political benefits of voting for, or against, a bill without the slightest clue as to whether the governor might finally veto it. As the circuitous legislative course of this year's abortion bill unfolds, Schaefer the individual may well prefer reticence. But Schaefer the governor owes the public, and its lawmakers, a clear statement of where he stands.

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